Authors: Patricia Fry
“My aunt’s in no hurry to get back to the cabin,” Savannah said.
Iris stopped and let the others catch up. “Why?”
“Because of what might be in there, that’s why,” Margaret responded.
Iris moved toward Margaret and wrapped one arm around her. “Now, Maggie, we’ve never had any problems here. I can’t imagine we’d suddenly be in any danger. Come on, let’s go build a fire, and pour ourselves a nice glass of wine, shall we?” Suddenly, she stopped. “Did someone pick up wine?” One glance at the others told the story. “Well, damn.” She stopped and thought for a moment. “I wonder if there’s time to…”
“Uh-uh,” Margaret said. “I’m not going across that lake again. It’ll be dark before we get back.”
“Me, neither,” Colbi agreed.
When everyone looked at Savannah, she tightened her lips defiantly and shook her head. “Not me. It gets dark early here, remember?”
Now annoyed, Iris looked at her watch. “It’s just after four,” she said. “It won’t be dark for…maybe an hour.”
Savannah took long strides ahead. “I’m happy on this side of the lake, thank you. Come on, let’s go.”
Within minutes, the quartet reached the cabin and, once they were inside, Margaret slammed the door shut and locked the deadbolt. “So what else do you have to drink?” she asked, heading for the kitchen. “Does Craig hide liquor?”
Savannah and Colbi were engaged in a bit of hysterical laughter as Iris slipped out of her coat and followed Margaret. “I don’t know. Let’s look, shall we?”
Soon, the four of them were opening cupboards and moving old cans, pots, and other containers aside in search of something hard to drink—Colbi and Margaret on their knees peering into the lower cabinets—when Savannah announced, “You have mice.”
Iris turned and looked at her. “We do? Well, don’t feed the cats anymore—let those two moochers earn their keep.”
“Here’s half a bottle of whiskey!” Margaret called. “And some vodka. Okay, ladies, get your mason jars ready.”
“Can you bring me one, Auntie? I’m going to start the fire.” Before Savannah stepped out of the kitchen, however, she noticed Iris walking around in circles and thinking out loud. “So this cabin is notorious, huh? I still can’t believe Craig hasn’t heard the stories and the rumors. Dammit, he should have told me!”
“And what would that accomplish?” Savannah asked. “Would you ever come up here with him again?”
“Probably not.” She turned to Savannah. “You know how closely I follow the spirit world. I’m into woo-woo stuff. I believe in spirits. But I have a healthy respect for them, too. I know what those on the dark side are capable of. No, I would not be coming up here with him again. In fact, I’m not sure I can sleep here tonight.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Savannah asked.
“Maybe,” Iris said. “Just maybe. I’ll let you know tomorrow.”
Savannah started wadding paper and stacking kindling, then stood and asked, “So, Iris, you think the sightings are spirits?”
“Hell, I don’t know. Could be, I guess.” She reached up and opened another cupboard. “So all we have to drink is hard liquor? Why didn’t we buy some wine when we had the chance?”
“As you know, we got distracted,” Savannah reminded her. “So do you still want to go back and get some?”
Iris peered out the kitchen window. “Do you think we could get back here before dark?”
“We’d be cutting it close.”
Colbi chimed in. “I wouldn’t try it.”
After thinking about it, Iris said, “Okay, let’s have a shot of that whiskey to settle our nerves.” She called out to Margaret, “Give me a double.”
“Is there anything to mix it with?” Savannah asked.
Colbi began poking through the fridge and cupboards. “Let’s see, white grape juice, sparkling cider, a bottle of cappuccino…”
“I’ll have my whiskey with water, I guess,” Savannah said while breaking up more kindling and placing it in the fireplace.
Savannah reached out and petted the tabby. “Well, hi there, Dolly. What have you two been up to today?” she asked, scratching her behind the ear. She looked around the room. “Where’s your sidekick, anyway? Rags!” she called. “Here, kitty, kitty.”
“I hope the creature from the black lagoon didn’t get him,” Margaret said.
Savannah scowled. “Don’t say things like that, Auntie.” She stood and headed toward the bedrooms, calling, “Rags!” When she returned, she said, “I can’t find him. Where could he be?”
“Probably hiding in plain sight,” Colbi suggested. “Dolly, go find Rags. Where’s Rags?”
The tabby looked at Colbi and sat down, then walked over to their food bowls and looked back at her again.
Colbi put her hands on her hips. “You guys ate all your food? I thought we left you enough for the rest of the week. What did you do, invite some of the local squirrels and chipmunks in for lunch?” she joked as she filled their bowls.
Once Savannah had the fire going, she asked, “Colbi, help me find him, would you? I’m getting kind of worried.” She addressed Iris. “Do you know of any place where Rags could hide?”
“No,” she said, shaking her head. “Not really.”
Suddenly, they heard a loud crash, clatter, and thud.
“Sounds like you found your cat,” Margaret said smugly. “I wonder what he broke.”
Savannah grinned at her aunt, then rushed toward the main bedroom where the sound seemed to originate, Colbi close behind her. “Oh no!”
“What?” Colbi asked.
“It looks like he did break something. What is that?”
Colbi quickly surveyed the situation. “I think he just knocked those books down and the shelf caved in.”
“Yeah, see, that piece is tipped. Hey—looks like a secret hiding place.”
“It does,” Savannah agreed. She looked more closely. “It must have been hidden by those old books. What do you suppose is in there?”
“I’m afraid to look.”
Just then, Rags leaped up onto the dresser next to the shelf and began digging his paw into the gap. Before Savannah could stop him, he pulled something out and it dropped to the floor.
“Sage,” Colbi said.
“It’s a piece of dried sage.” She looked at Savannah. “I don’t know about you, but I’m curious.” She lifted the piece of shelving and peered inside. After pulling out a few items and laying them on the bed, she said, “More sage, a package of salt, and candles. There’s something else in there. Looks like a book.”
“What happened?” Iris asked, joining the pair. Margaret followed.
Savannah pointed. “Rags found a secret hiding place.”
When Iris saw the items spread over the drab quilt, she said, “Sage, salt, and candles. Let’s see, how does that go? ‘Salt, sage, and light, I banish the evil from my sight.’”
“What are you, a witch?” Margaret asked, suspiciously.
“No,” she said definitively. “I just like reading about spells and spirits and things that go bump in the night.” She picked up the sage. “But I didn’t suspect that Craig knew about such things.”
“Maybe he doesn’t,” Savannah said. “This stuff’s old. Been in here for a long time; maybe since Craig was a child. Could it be that his parents were using it to banish the evil that kid brought here? Maybe they
aware of it.”
“Could be,” Iris said. She turned quickly toward the others. “So this means the rumors we heard today could be true. There
something frightening here.” She put her hand to her mouth. “Girls, we might be in for more than we bargained for tonight.”
“Lordy, lordy,” Margaret said as she walked out of the room. “Bring on the whiskey.”
Savannah, in the meantime, looked over Colbi’s shoulder at the book she was thumbing through. “It’s a personal diary…or journal.”
“Whose?” Iris asked.
“I’m not sure,” Colbi said. “Oh wait, here’s the name: Ellen. And the first entry is dated September 12, 1974.”
Iris moved closer to the two women. “Hey, that’s Craig’s mother. What did she write?”
“Well, let’s get our drinks…” Savannah started.
“And light the fire…” Margaret called from the living room.
“Did it go out?” Savannah asked. “Better bring in more wood and kindling.”
Margaret shook her head. “I’m not going out there alone.”
“Would you rather stay in here alone?” Savannah challenged. “Look, we have a little daylight left. Come on, let’s all go gather some wood together, then we’ll come in and have our drinks and see what Ellen had to say that was so private she had to hide it.”
“How many entries are there?” Iris asked, once the women had settled on the two sofas around the fireplace, eager to delve into the journal.
“Let’s see, only a half-dozen or so.” Colbi handed the book to Iris. “Hey, since this is Craig’s family, why don’t you start?”
Iris took the small book, looked down at the first entry, and began to read:
September 12, 1974. I hate this place. It holds nothing but fear for me, but I don’t let on because Frank and Craig love it so much. And Amos—what can I say about Amos? Does he like it here? It’s hard to tell; he doesn’t show much emotion. I thought it was strange that Frank’s parents built this cabin primarily for Amos—so they’d have a place to bring their grandson after his parents drowned. It was evidently after that awful accident that the boy became so remote and withdrawn. Somehow, Mary and Del discovered that Amos does better in this setting. He responds to the out-of-doors. At least that’s what my mother-in-law told me one day.
“Wow!” Iris said, making eye contact with Margaret and Colbi who were curled up on the brown sofa. She continued,
I didn’t know her very well—we didn’t have a close relationship. Maybe it’s because we saw each other so seldom—us living nearly 400 miles apart. So to have her speak rather spontaneously about Amos was a surprise to me.
Frank and Del had taken ten-year-old Craig to a ball game. Amos was eighteen at the time and lived primarily in a mental hospital. Mary told me that day that Amos was much like Craig as a youngster—full of life, curious, and happy, but that changed when his parents drowned. It was as if his lights went out. After that, he rarely spoke or smiled. Mary said he was thirteen when he came to live with them. When it was obvious that he had a problem—couldn’t seem to fit in anywhere—they felt it was best to institutionalize him. They chose a place that allowed for home visits and they brought him home several times a year.
Mary’s older son, Amos’s father, had been a builder and the one thing Amos cherished most after his parents’ death was his father’s tool belt. That’s when the boy started wearing it, taking it off just to sleep.
Well, the kid frightened me from day one. He was fifteen when I was first introduced to him. With the rift between Frank and his brother, there were no family gatherings of siblings and cousins. On this occasion, we met Mary and Del at their beloved cabin. What a disaster! I spent the entire weekend protecting my son from Amos’s violent advances. Craig was only seven then and Amos took delight in poking, pinching, and pounding on little Craig with all those tools in his tool belt. Mary and Del seemed oblivious to what was going on—or maybe they were just too tired to deal with it. Their idea of entertaining Amos was to turn him loose and let him run wild where they felt he couldn’t hurt himself or anyone else.
I’ve never witnessed anything like it—the boy went from quiet, remote, withdrawn in the car or in the cabin to crazy wild out of doors. I noticed that he was especially excited around bodies of water and he spent a lot of time playing in the river and the lake. The others couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t let Craig tag along with his cousin. They thought I was doting too much—not letting him be a boy. But inside I was terrified of what Amos might be capable of. I couldn’t explain it, but he frightened me to the core and I wasn’t taking any chances that he might harm my son.
By the time Amos was twenty-five, Mary and Del were in poor health and he spent most of his time in the institution. They died within months of each other in 1972. For some reason, Frank thought it was important that he take responsibility for Amos. Maybe it was a deathbed promise he’d made to his parents, guilt…I don’t know what it was that motivated Frank to get involved with that young man.
When the grandparents were no longer able to care for Amos, Frank talked about bringing him to live with us. I made it clear that I would not have him in my home. It’s unfortunate, but that issue drove a wedge between Frank and me. To this day, I cannot understand why anyone would want to spend time with Amos. And Frank obviously doesn’t understand my feelings. There’s something frightening about that young man. I think Mary was aware of it, too. For, that day when she talked to me about Amos, she said that although she loved him, she knew something was not right—that there was a shadow over his soul. That’s how she explained it—a shadow over his soul. And that was the only time she ever bared her own soul in front of me with regard to Amos Sledge.
Iris rolled her eyes at the others before reading the next paragraph.
Since Frank insists on coming to the cabin more often and bringing Amos along, I’ve done everything I can to eradicate the evil I feel when he’s around. Yes, evil…there, I said it. That’s what I feel. Since I can’t say that to my husband or my son, I truly need this outlet in order to get in touch with and validate what is true for me. And maybe someday someone will find these writings and understand why we were murdered in our sleep or, maybe drowned, or hanged.
Iris read more slowly, obviously moved by the words.
I don’t know much about the dark side, but I read someplace that where evil lurks, you should burn sage and sprinkle salt. I’ve been doing that every time I come up here. I even found a secret place in our bedroom where I can hide it. I believe that’s where Frank’s father kept his handgun.
Iris placed the journal on her lap and stared at the others. “That poor woman. I’d be terrified up here with a scary, deranged kid like that.” She handed the book to Savannah, who sat next to her on the green sofa. “Here, you read what happens next.”
Margaret clutched Colbi’s arm. “What the hell was that?”
“I don’t know,” Colbi said, looking at the other women.
Before anyone could respond, Rags and Dolly tore into the room. Rags leaped onto the back of the green sofa, turned, and stared toward the guest bedroom, his eyes wide and his ears alert. Dolly, in the meantime, ran behind the vinyl chair and peered out at Colbi.
“What is it, Dolly, girl?” she asked, reaching out for the tabby. “What scared you guys?”
“Or what did they do?” Margaret asked, squinting toward the guest bedroom.
“We’d better go check,” Savannah suggested.
“Why?” Margaret whined.
“They might have gotten into something they shouldn’t have or broken something,” Savannah reasoned.
“You go,” Margaret said. “I’ll stay here.” She stood and picked up the poker. “…and tend to the fire.”
Savannah smirked playfully at her. “Come on, Iris…Colbi, let’s go see what that was.”
“I’ll stay here with Maggie,” Iris said, snuggling deeper into the green sofa.
Colbi looked at Iris, then stood up. “I’ll go with you, Savannah.”
“Thank you, Colbi.”
“You go first,” Colbi said, cowering behind Savannah, who let out a sigh.
Savannah walked confidently toward the darkened guest bedroom. When she flipped on the light switch, she started to laugh.
“What?” Colbi asked, peering out from behind her.
“My suitcase. I guess they were playing in it and it toppled over onto the floor. They’re lucky no one caught a tail in there.”
“What’s funny?” Margaret asked, walking cautiously toward the bedroom door and peeking in. Iris followed.
“This room is so dark and dreary,” Iris said. She looked more closely at the bars on the window. “Do you think they put these here because of Amos?”
Colbi nodded. “Yeah, this is probably where he stayed.” She studied the locks on the door and shivered. “They must have locked him in…like an animal.” She turned to leave the room. “Let’s finish the story and maybe find out what really happened here. Wow, what if we crack the case?” When her comment was met with blank stares, she added, “You know, the hammer-murder case.”
Margaret pushed past Colbi and rushed out of the room. “Sheesh, Colbi, why did you have to bring that up? Now, I need another swig of whiskey.” Holding up the bottle, she asked, “Anyone else ready?”
“Sure wish we’d remembered to get wine,” Colbi complained, picking up her drink and sitting down on the brown sofa. She stared at the liquid in her jar. “This stuff’s strong.” However, when Margaret bypassed her glass while pouring, Colbi said, “But since it’s all we have, I’ll take a little more.” When Margaret grinned at her, she said, “Courage. I might need courage to get through the rest of the story.”
Savannah took a sip from her glass, picked up the book, and began reading:
September 13, 1974. Frank has been in a bad mood for most of the weekend. He misplaced his keys. We spent a good part of our first day here searching for them. We thought we’d have to stay an extra few days in order to meet a locksmith from the city and have new keys made. Friends were going to bring up our extra car key. But thankfully, the keys showed up a day later, almost as if it were a miracle. Yes, miraculously, there they were, in plain sight, near where had Frank left them. I believe Amos had something to do with this fiasco—a sick joke of his, perhaps?
At any rate, we leave for home today, Can’t wait to get shed of this young man. I’m still shaking from something that happened last night. Frank thinks I dreamed it, but it was as plain as day. I saw Amos standing outside our bedroom window in the moonlight, holding that hammer up over his head. Frank insists the young man can’t get out of his room when it’s locked, but I beg to differ. He was out of that room! I don’t know how, but he managed—probably using those tools of his. When Frank found the animal outside the window this morning, I tried to tell him Amos was to blame, but he insisted the animal had been dead for weeks. If that’s the case, Amos’s actions were even more bizarre than I thought. I’m so glad it’s daylight and that we’re leaving for home very soon.
Savannah cringed. “He bludgeoned an animal? Now that’s just sick.”
“But he didn’t kill it—he just beat up on a carcass,” Colbi reasoned.
“And you don’t think that’s sick?” Savannah asked. When no one responded, she said, “The next entry is three months later, in December. Auntie, do you want to read it?”
Margaret looked apprehensive and took the book cautiously. “Why, is it X-rated?”
“Could be,” Savannah said, laughing nervously.
Margaret began to read:
December 28, 1974. I told Frank I didn’t want to make the trip up here this time. But it seems to mean a lot that I accompany him and I don’t like to disappoint him. I can stand it for a few days. When we picked Amos up from the facility, they told us he’d been behaving much better. So far, he seems calmer and that makes me calmer. I’d hoped Craig could join us this time—he’s never come up here with us when we’ve had Amos. But he’d made plans with some of his college buddies. I thought Craig might help to defuse the situation with Amos, but actually, it’s been less intense this time. He does stay to himself, though. He’s no conversationalist, that’s for sure.
December 29. I was wrong about Amos. He had a spell last night—woke us up with a lot of clattering. Frank found him slamming that hammer against the window bars. He managed to break out the window, which had to be boarded up so Amos wouldn’t freeze overnight. He acts like a caged animal. But then he virtually is, at least at night. I don’t know why it bothers him. He chooses to be to himself, but he sure doesn’t want to be locked up. Frank realizes he needs to do something different. He’s thinking about giving Amos his freedom when we’re up here to see how he does. I told him those bars and locks are not keeping him in, anyway. He still doesn’t believe me.
Last night, I was up visiting the bathroom and saw a shadow cross the window. When I looked out, it was Amos I saw out there. Frank tries to convince me it’s my overactive imagination and sometimes I tend to doubt myself.
However, something happened this morning to change Frank’s mind. When we got up, Frank unlocked Amos’s room and greeted him as usual. In the meantime, I went into the kitchen to start breakfast. That’s when I saw mud tracks on the floor—obviously carried in on someone’s shoes. They led from the front door through the kitchen toward the basement door. When I showed them to Frank, he was stunned. At first, he thought he had tracked in the mud last night after gathering firewood. But it was fresher and wetter than that. He checked outside and discovered it had not rained overnight. Whoever tracked in that mud had probably picked it up down at the lake or along the river while we slept. Sure enough, Frank found mud on Amos’s boots.
Later, Skip, the boat tender’s son, came up from the dock with one of Amos’s tools. He said his father had found it in a skiff that had been set adrift.
Frank was quiet for most of the day. When I tried to talk to him about the strong evidence that Amos has found a way out of that room, he snapped at me. Said I was paranoid. I told him he’s wearing blinders and that his denial could ultimately come back to haunt him. I tried to remind him of the reason why he started locking Amos in, but he didn’t want to discuss it. He went to bed angry and I’m trying to not fall asleep here on the sofa. If that young man was responsible for his parents’ death—even if he simply blames himself for it, as one psychologist suggested—our lives could be in danger. Why can’t Frank see that?
Iris took a sip of her drink. “Sure glad I came into the family too late to have to deal with Amos.”
“You paid your dues.”
“What do you mean, Maggie?”
challenge was your oldest son.”
“You got that right,” Iris said. “What a nightmare Damon was during his druggie days.” She smiled. “And what a blessing he is now.”
“Amen,” Colbi said, choking up a little.
Iris reached over and squeezed Colbi’s hand, then said, “But, as messed up as he was, he wasn’t scary and dangerous.”
Margaret grinned in Iris’s direction. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that. Back in those days, he was something only a mother could love.” She smiled and asked, “How are your other two boys doing?”
Iris beamed. “Wonderful. Brett’s taking some college courses in hopes of accelerating his path toward becoming a physical therapist, and Chris plans to enroll in a trade school—probably for electronics. Their father has actually decided to pay for part of their schooling, so that will help a lot.”