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“When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
The late autumn evening that Monroe Jameson was killed had been one filled with happiness and hope. He had rented and driven out to a secluded cabin by the lake. His girlfriend of 18 months, Betty Trapper, was to arrive a little later, and he had planned on asking her to marry him. He had brought flowers and wine, and he had started cooking and preparing what he had come to know was her favorite food.
When Betty arrived, he had just started a fire in the fireplace. He turned around and saw his shadow looming largely on the opposite wall, shifting and moving eerily to the dance of the blaze. And while she set her things down and removed her jacket, he raised his arms playfully so as to make more of that ghost-like shadow. And she laughed that laugh that had captured his heart from the very beginning. Had it been joyous beauty or beautiful joy?
It was in that moment that a stranger burst in and shot him, expeditiously and cold-heartedly. The bullet entered his torso and found its way to his spine, damaging the neural connections and completely paralyzing him. He lay there helpless, hearing Betty’s cries and supplications as she was being raped. And then, he heard the gunshot that took her life.
The intruder helped himself to the romantic meal and the wine, ransacked the cabin for anything of value that he could find, and eventually drove off in Monroe’s pickup. And, as the fire in the fireplace slowly burned itself out, so also did the life in the man slowly evaporate from the body.
The owner of the property, Jarvis Elkhorn, had been appropriately mournful about the incident. He had known Monroe and Betty and their families for a number of years. He knew most people in the area, and most people who came out from the city were repeat customers. Jarvis was the kind of man for whom there were very few strangers.
But he was somewhat appreciative that this horrible incident had happened in the late fall. It was likely that he would not be losing much business for the sake of the investigation, and the oncoming off-season would allow time to clean up the place and fix it up for the next summer.
However, in the weeks that followed, a peculiar dark spot began to appear on the wall facing the fireplace. Jarvis tried removing it and painting over it, but it continued to reappear, growing in size little by little. Eventually, it took on a ghost-like appearance, like a shadow projected there, as if there might be a fire in the fireplace. And whatever Jarvis tried, that insufferable stain continued to resist all attempts to remove it or to cover it up.
Eventually, Jarvis came up with a different idea and scoured a number of catalogs, until he found a tapestry large enough to cover nearly the entire wall. It cost more than he had wanted to spend, but it took care of the problem. And, in late spring, the vacationers who came to look at the cabin were delighted at the extra feature. The tapestry gave the place a little extra ambiance.
Jarvis enjoyed driving around the park when he had time, seeing families with children, swimming and boating and having their cookouts, or the men who spent the days quietly fishing. From time to time, he remembered Monroe and Betty and silently wished that their killer could have been brought to justice. The pickup had been found in a neighboring county, but no clues or leads ever came to light.
It was October again, almost a year since the murders, and Jarvis had just finished a trim job on a couple of trees by the cabin, and he gathered up the branches and debris and threw them in the back of his pickup. Before he drove off, he stood and watched the Bradford twins splashing and squealing in the lake, and he smiled to himself. It was this very kind of scenario that gave him gratification in what he did and what he provided. He shook his head and chuckled, thinking, Boy, that water’s got to be cold. Still smiling, he nodded and waved at the hiker walking by.
Later that evening, when he was washing up the supper dishes and gazing out his kitchen window, he remembered that he had never seen that hiker before. Before he went to bed that night, he got in his truck and drove around, checking out all the cabins. Everything was quiet and peaceful, just the way it was supposed to be.
The Bradfords left the following Sunday, and Jarvis cleaned the cabin and yard and figured they might be the last of the season. But, on Tuesday, he got a call from Adam Johns asking to reserve it for the following weekend. Jarvis remembered Adam from prior summers, when his family used to come out to enjoy the lake.
Adam mentioned a girlfriend, Abbie Smith, and added that he wanted to bring her out there and propose to her. And Jarvis got a really bad feeling about that. He tried to talk Adam into taking another cabin, but Adam was very insistent. He had fond memories of that particular cabin. Jarvis couldn’t think of any practical reason to deny Adam what he wanted, and the reservation was set.
Adam showed up on Friday evening, and Jarvis went out to see him. He had grown into a fine young man, with what seemed like a vigorous and sturdy physique. He said he was going to enjoy some quiet time, and Abbie would be coming out the next afternoon. Jarvis got that bad feeling again but tried not to let it show.
As Jarvis started to leave, Adam said, “By the way, I like that tapestry… it gives the place a little class. I think Abbie’s going to love it.”
Jarvis smiled back, “Yeah, well, it’s there for a reason. There’s a dang spot on that wall… showed up last year and I just couldn’t get rid of it.” He checked the lock and made sure it was working right, and he left. On the drive home, he thought to himself, What are the chances that something like that could happen again?
The thought continued to haunt him into the night… The same cabin, the same circumstances.
On Saturday about mid-morning, Jarvis got a call from his brother-in-law, telling him that his sister had taken ill and might not make it through the weekend. Jarvis had to make quick preparations to go be with her. They were in another town, over an hour’s drive away. Before taking to the road, he went over to the only occupied cabin to talk to Adam. He explained the situation, asked Adam if he was OK not having a caretaker around, and told him the use of the cabin was free if Adam could just look after things until he got back.
As it turned out, Adam had some free time on his hands. He laughingly said he was quite capable of taking care of an empty resort and told Jarvis to take all the time he needed. Jarvis was relieved as he drove away. His parents raised him well, he thought. And a little later, as he drove on the state highway, that bad feeling crept up on him again. But he had other worries.
The Tapestry Slips
Abbie arrived at the cabin a little before noon. She and Adam had a light lunch, and then she rode with him as he drove around the resort, looking things over. Nothing seemed out of place, so they returned to the cabin and enjoyed an afternoon of swimming. Later, they were gifted with a memorable sunset, and they were thankful when a hiker walked by who gladly assented to snapping a few photos of them and the beautiful panoramic backdrop. They could not have known who that hiker was.
It was now getting close to that time to which Adam had been looking forward. He was able to hide his motives and his ardor by grilling some fish outside, while Abbie prepared a salad inside. She kept looking up and admiring the tapestry of the two swans on a lake, looking at each other, as if quietly divulging their feelings. She’d known moments like that with Adam… nothing spoken, just a deep sense of inseparability and confidence.
Adam had wanted a fire, but it had been unusually warm this fall. Instead, they dimmed the lights and lit some candles. Jarvis had learned over the years how to provide for ambiance. They were about to sit down to eat when the door flew open.
There stood a man with a gun, whose methods included not hesitating to shoot. But two things thwarted his efficiency this time. Abbie was in the line of fire at the moment that he burst in, and he wanted her alive. The other thing was that when the door flew open, it created a draft that lifted the tapestry on the wall, and an eerie, mournful sound was heard there that no one could have ignored.
When he glanced at the wall, the tapestry seemed to billow up again and fly off the hooks on the wall, falling heavily on the sofa below. The man fixated disbelievingly on the stain on the wall, which was now appearing to swell into a cloud-like anomaly that was rapidly separating itself from the wall. Abbie and Adam had huddled together on the floor in the corner of the room furthest away from the intruder and now watched in astonishment as the shadow flung itself off the wall and wrapped itself around the stranger. Abbie turned away then and hid her face in his chest, but Adam looked on.
He couldn’t see that that dark, ghost-like entity was attacking the man by inserting itself into every orifice it could find. It filled his ears with a despairing screaming from which there was no easement. It pierced into his nostrils with the burning sensation of an acrid chemical vapor. His eyes were flooded with a deep red glare from which he couldn’t blink away.
He had opened his mouth and was trying frantically to scream, but he couldn’t utter any sound, not even a gasp. The skin over his entire body felt as if it was being stabbed with countless red-hot needles. In less than two minutes, the stony, cold-blooded killer had been driven to a state of sobbing surrender, albeit tearless and silent.
And the shadow-ghost continued its assault with one final unpleasantry. It forced an extremity of itself into the stranger’s rectum, largely and deeply. And it became so searing that the helpless man expired from profound shock. In the silence that followed, Adam watched the shapeless thing appearing to separate itself from the body and taking on a spherical density. It then formed into the figure of a person, it turned a featureless face toward him for a moment, appeared to nod at him, and then, it walked out the door and disappeared into the night.
Adam called the police and told them that he couldn’t explain what had just happened but that there was a dead intruder in their cabin. “The owner might be able to give an explanation,” he said, “but, frankly, I don’t know if there can be any explanation.” He and Abbie told the lieutenant everything exactly as it happened.
The lieutenant called Jarvis at the number that Jarvis had left with Adam and, having been informed about the reason for Jarvis’ absence, the lieutenant told him simply that he needed to talk at the earliest convenience.
On Monday afternoon, Jarvis was on his way home, with a cloud of mixed feelings hovering over him. His sister had miraculously made it through the weekend and had been given a very promising prognosis. So he felt relieved in that. And then, he dreaded the situation at home that had prompted the police to contact him.
In the course of their conversation, he and the lieutenant deduced that whatever abnormality had arisen at the cabin that Saturday night, it apparently had something to do with the incident that had occurred there a year ago, although that did not provide any reasonable explanation that could be entered into the books. At any rate, a very bad individual had now been removed.
Jarvis tried to apologize to Adam and Abbie, but Adam recalled that Jarvis had tried to talk him out of taking that cabin. The rationale would not have made any sense and would not have dissuaded Adam. And, considering that they were the only lodgers on the grounds, the use of another cabin likely would not have prevented the invasion or possible assault. And the anomaly in that particular cabin had indeed saved their lives.
The last week in October, on the anniversary of their deaths, Jarvis drove out to the cemetery where Betty and Monroe had been buried. He pulled up in the driveway at the same time as their parents, and right behind him, he saw Adam and Abbie also coming to pay their respects. After some solemn greetings, they all walked together over to the graves, which had been plotted side by side. And as they approached, they all looked upon the markers with an air of puzzlement.
The stones had been selected and purchased in a spirit of mutuality. They were matched in design and were of the lightest grade of granite. But now, they saw that Betty’s stone was covered with a dark hue. From a distance, it appeared as matted charcoal, somber and austere, but as they got closer, the grains and flakes in the stone sparkled and threw off every conceivable color of the spectrum, drawing an inward smile upon each of them.
r. nuñez, 9/2018