By Anna Caldwell
—Did I tell you this story?
A couple—young, mid thirties and attractive, their professions unknown by their attire though it’s clear by their clean and sharp apparel that they do work in some professional setting—has just parked their car in a surprisingly sparce ‘lot’ carved into the woods besides a summer camp for boy scouts. The couple is later than they had intended to be, only by several hours, which they can attribute to the normal hang-ups of their lives and the requirements that go with their professions.
They laugh intimately as they walk to the cluster of cabins up ahead where their boy Tim has been for the last several weeks, with sparce a word from him other than a few brief letters to his mother. The husband squeezes her back thigh and she squeals, slapping her husband’s hand and saying not in public, which has the same effect on them both so that they comment at the same time and with the same words just how little this camp now seems to be public, how there are no children, no councillors, no one there to greet them on this Parent’s Weekend at Eagleton’s Bluff, the camp young Tim had begged to go to after traveling baseball ended for the summer.
The woman, Claira for now, felt a chill and asked where they all were? Where were the counsellors, the children, anyone? The man, Jim, knew better than to mess with her at this moment, learned better after eight years of knowing worse, and said something that ended up sounding false to him, that they were probably at the lake in the back or in the field or they’ve been at the the amphithetare since the start time they had missed by 6 hours and 26 minutes? About.
In this little ‘village’ with six cabins split on both sides of a road, a larger 7th cabin at the end in which was handled all of the administrative and first aid concerns. The sign, “Welcome Parents,” that had been spread across a line going over the ‘street,’ seemed too faded and ragged to have been just put up. Jim checked the flyer that their son had mailed to him and saw the dates matched, plus, he’d spoken with their son two days before; this was the correct weekend. But even if it wasn’t, he thought, where was everyone? Claira looked at the mercy of a chill, pulling her cardigan closer over her otherwise bare shoulders, though the sun still shone brighter at this 4’oclock hour in the summer. Jim, assuring Claira how okay it was, went to the first cabin on the left, knocked, and hearing no noise, opened it, and seeing an empy room with dust hanging in the sunlight that like a knife cut through the darkness. This had been the cabin he’d set Tim up in. Panic now setting in, he told Claira there was no one in there. At the second cabin they had a similar experience, though one side of a rafter lay through a window in the back. Jim shut the door a little too quickly for Claira, who needed to know what was in there, Jim? What was it? Both of them alert and of the feeling that though this place was deserted, they may not be alone. Skipping the last cabin on the left of the ‘street’ and going straight for the administration building, Claira opened the door, or tried to, the stiff, splintered pine swollen and somewhat stuck, ill fitting the cabin’s frame so that Jim had to nearly rip the handle off to open it. The cabin, dusty as the others, dull and faded with time, a Navajo patterned rug scrunched up to a rough wooded desk. Claira, now with racing heart and on edge, fell back over a stool and took it down with her when she saw the body at the far end of the cabin, a withered old thing sunk into a chair, his eyes sunk into his skull, which was very much visible beneath his thin, wrinkled paper of skin. Jim, of opposite reaction, helps Claira up and shouts to the man, shouts a few times, before slowly creeping forward, his nerves a little raw for this, and shakes the man, which does not stir. A body, Claira thinks, and says “he’s dead. He’s dead, Jim. What the fuck is going on?”
The old man’s eyes open, pitch black eyes of all pupil save for the whiteness of cataracts where a human’s pupils should be, looking as a man possessed or capable of possessing, and stares at Jim and Claira, shaking his eyes only, which have the distinct, yet still vague, still foreigh, foreign like many years, glare of absolute hatred—vehement, pure, murderous. Jim gets aggressive with the man, but nothing’s said. Claira has to tell Jim to stop, to leave him alone, and they walk out for more answers.
They’re in the ‘street’ now, in front of building #7, the Administration and First Aid building, which has ‘Hub of the Heights’ carved over two of the exterior logs, looking around at the other row of cabins. An arrow, which Jim sees in his periphery, strikes the cabin on the right side closest to the admin and first aid building, the sound bringing Claira’s attention over. The cabin, 30 some odd feet to Claira’s right, whos facing the Hub, isn’t close enough to have been aimed at them. Jim yells into the woods, but there’s no reply, no rustle, no sound, nothing, other than the natural cadence of the woods. Jim starts walking over to the cabin, Claira whisper-screams “No! Jim! Please stop! Stop. Stop!”, but Jim doesn’t stop, and as he closes in he sees there’s some sort of ‘drawing’ or ‘marking’ on the cabin, a shadowed ‘figure’ or what most closely resembles a figure. This marking is somewhat formless, it’s more like a shadow of a figure, or what a shadow’s shadow would look like, rather than the figure itself, and it’s marked up in what looks like char, the arrow piercing through the ‘forms’ upper region, of what doesn’t resemble a head but Jim knows has to be this marking’s head.
Jim, whose skin feels like it’s dripping off him at this point, or it feels like water dripping down velvet, is now more than anything overcome by the stench of something so rotten and what he knows and believes like he believes in gravity just has to be rotting flesh and is coming from the woods, doubles over and gags, vomits beside the cabin, the formless shadow of a marking now taking a very real though still indistinct form so that Claira runs over to him, unsure when and where all of this blood got on her clothes and hands, and—
—You’re by far the worse boyfriend ever. Why the hell are you telling me this before I go to bed. You don’t want me to sleep?
—I do, and to have dreams of heroism and justice. Because when Jim and Claira looked into the woods, a small child, utterly motionless and statuesque, stared back at them, the blood fully drained from this small, fair haired boy emitting some sort of high-pitched—
—This isn’t helping.
—Listen, cause that was Tim, their son, so they had found him. I’m going to continue.
Jim, wasting no time, snatched up his small child and ran with his, or really trailed his, wife as she had been reasonably good at track in college and had tried to keep it up since. So, with pale faced child, Jim, whose profession is about to be known, called an old friend to let him know he would be needed to make good on a ‘favor.’
Now Jim, while he looked like a professor or someone with some vague or murkey description of a job as a consultant or marketer, was actually a defense contractor who spent 16 years in the military, just which branch is unknown to your narrator, though he did partake in many ‘extracurricular activities’ post military service, serving as a literal gun-for-hire and mercenary in some of the world’s most unstable, and stable, regions, and who had more or less been involved with several coups which foreign press thankfully never got wind of. But when Jim, always a bit sharper than he appeared, was back in his head, having seen his child and no longer under the assumption that the charred remains on the cabin to the right of admin building #7 was his, he called his partner, or soon to be ex-partner, as the situation was hazy except for those with a lot invested. Now Jim’s partner but once his subordinate, had, under Jim’s orders, assembled a ton of mercenaries and militants so outstanding and top notch they were denoted by their abilities and known within a select and feared circle as the A-Team, or A+ team if need be for legal reasons.
Now these overachieving assassins were currently en route to a training and development facility not far from these woods to deliver an assortment of venomous snakes whose proteins they wanted to extract for torture/truth telling devices. At the insistance and request of their former top dog—
—Top dog? A-Team? This is getting ridicious. Just—
—Top dog, they detoured to camp Eagleton Summit to reign in whatever phantoms had unhinged the order of that long established camp of peace and protestant work ethic.
Now here’s where it gets weird: when the A team arrives, the old man is gone—each cabin now bears a marking that seems prelangauge scrawls, like some ancient attempt at purging whatever shivering person of some primeval and very real horror plaguing their lives. Going back to their truck for whatever reason, they found it empty of gas, their driver missing, and the containers of snakes empty.
“Well fuck,” one of them said, the one who for any observer would appear to be the leader: strong jawed, stern eyed, and barking orders, but those in the know would have looked at the runt spitting tobacco through the hole in his cheek, this, through some beaurocratic cause of events, was the leader for this particular mission.
This runt had cultived, some say through willpower alone, an appearance of being so much a victim that nuns, clergy, and social workers found it within their greatest desire to punch this runt in the face. Having known from the young age of preconception that he would be in the military, this runt had decided to become as tough as imaginarily possible, seeking all forms of trials and tests to pit himself against, indulging in the deadly arts of venoming and consuming poisons to protect himself—he’d killed more than 30 men alone with a weaponless and self perfected version of muy thai, kali, and underground tai chi that he mastered at the tender at of 12. By 20 he’d become the toughest man alive. Now, at the age of 32, he was working on Toughest of All Time, hence the name Toats, or Toat Bags, or Baggles as it evolved into. He preferred these valley-girl, hobbit-like names, as it made people underestimate him. His real name, the one his father probably gave him before that mythic abandonment—
—Just call him Steve.
—We can call him what we want but his given name was Lawrence Bert Jackson, and he was one grizzly looking motherfucker. The aforementioned hole in his cheek was from the sabor of the sultan himself, who walked in on LBJ’s having impregnated not only the Sultan’s harem, but his personal body guards and sons as well, the rumor being that LBJ’s seed was so fucking tough that for every ejaculation, every sperm found a home, didn’t matter whether the host was—
—Most often, all that matters was the vicinity to LBJ that results in the sewing, as the rumor goes. But LBJ kept the sabors scars there, even kept one of the puncture wounds open, so he could spit his tobaccy through there without having to open his mouth. In the womb, he was told he talked to much and tried to keep his mouth shut as often as possible.
But, oddly enough, Jim had met and recruited LBJ at one of Timmy’s T-ball games. So LBJ, now bending down and cooing an inland taipan in his gentle grip, told his men to stand down, he going in alone, but not before, of course, he whipped the snake in the air to the throat of a devil child watching them through the trees, or so the drugs made him think, made them all think. Yes, made them all think, for in this insidious woods where once innocent manchild’s learned how to play the notes of nature with their crude tools, a fungus had been unearthed by a prying, aspiring naturalist, unleashing, so to speak, a pandora’s box of hallucinogenic spores that served as dissociatives and deliriants, rendering the team unable to perform their duties, leading them all to sext their loved ones, which in Marco’s demented state resulted in a dick pic being sent to Jim.
—Really? A dick pic?
—Really. You can’t make this stuff up. Or rather, it was what Marco thought was his dick, which, unfortunately, turned out to be an aggressive tiger snake trying to get Marco off it’s tail.
—So it wasn’t a dick pic?
—Not in the traditional sense, no.
Upon receiving the message, Jim pulled over to a diner and brough his family inside, demanding, as pleasantly as you can to a bloodless child, to tell him just what exactly had occurred since they dropped him off those several, long weeks ago.
And so begins the legend of the Displaced.
“Shadows can bleed, in a way,” a shrill voice reflected, using the child’s mouth as it’s medium.
“Enough,” Jim said with a backhand to Tim’s mouth, knocking color back in the child’s face, and seemingly, his sense too, so that he shrieks like his hands have been bludgeoned with a spiked club, leaning back and falling over a log, Claira bending to his side, telling the poor boy his hands were fine, they’re fine, they’re just fine.
“Fine hands don’t do what mine did,” the boy says.
“Just warm them by the fire,” Claira says, holding her sons little hands between her own little hands.
—I thought you said they were at a diner?
—I’m not sure I—
—So anyway, they’re at this campfire and the sun’s going down.
Jim, who’s now clicking the clip of his Sig Sauer P226 Elite with the threaded barrel, stretched like this, with her right hand to his left foot. Claira is now sharpening a few throwing knives that she keeps with her. As a I mentioned before, she’s a magician by trade.
—You most certainly did not mention this.
—Pretty sure I did. So she’s getting ready to spook some ghosts or phantoms or as yet unidentified haunting objects, or U-HO’s as is described by those in the biz.
As you can imagine, Claira’s traded in her psychiatrist’s garb for some sweet black leather pants that accentuate the bottom that Jim fell in love with all those years ago, her cardigan now replaced by a black belly shirt and suspenders from which her various knives now dangle. And she’s go this sweet rabbit side kick that pulls guns out of a hat. So Jim, the ex-militant, Claira the warmongering magican, get ready to go after…back to the bloodless child for a second. I forgot to tell you what he told his parents at the diner.
“Dad,” Tim started before trailing off and receiving another backhand from his mother, the boy now sobering up from the spirits of Eagleton Heights that he’d been under the influence of just what they were now about to find out. As he began, shaking, his hair wet with sweat and clung to his face and neck, to blond strands now paler than before, chalklike in their whiteness.
The boy started again. “Nick, Tom, and I, were arguing over who got the top bunk and who had to be on the other bunk bed with Rod. Tom didn’t like Rod because Tom said that Rod had tripped him during kickball the day before, even though he wasn’t kicked. Tom just fell on the way to second base, and started crying and tried blaming Rod because Tom was clumsy and thought he could blame it on Rod, who was weird, but we all saw that Tom was a wuss, a total wiener.”
“Don’t talk like that,” Claira said.
“It’s true, mom, he was a total wuss. You should have seen what happened to him! It started out innocuous enough. We were arguing over who would be stuck in which bed when Tom screamed like a girl.”
—Yeah? Like a girl?
—Listen, I’m just quoting. So Tim continues:
“Tom was screaming like a little princess dress wearing girl, but it was a little too screamy, like you’re home alone, sitting on the couch, watching TV, when you hear a distinctive knock on the door, the glass door, so you can see that it’s not someone there but you hear a knock again, a knock knock, and it’s coming from inside the house, and it’s kind of loud actually, and you hear it every few minutes, until you’re able to discern that this knocking is from ice falling in the freezer, and as .you look up, like, everything’s ok, when you see a lipless face stairing at you through the window—because we all then looked to the window and saw our councellor staring in, his eyes as open as they could get, maybe even more, and his lips were gone, chewed off by either himself or someone or something else, and his eyes were scanning the room, going nauseatingly quickly from side to side, his tongue lashing his bare teeth, lopping up the blood that was on his chin, grinding those exposed teeth and humming, humming and shrieking. Pressed against the window, the fog exhaled through his dangling jaw expanding and contracting on the window, as Tom, screamed and Rod yelled and Nick and I were paralyzed with fear, like rendered silent, as the lipless councellor finally caught our eyes through the window, and I could see him, in absolute and utter agony, and in like an extreme confusion, looking around like what do I do? I’m going to bite someone’s lips off, right? Right? Right? I’ll bite all lips off ! And Tom’s still screaming, and the counceller like stabs himself in the shoulder with an elaborate, ancient, and sinister looking dagger, and brings those eyelids even higher, even cuts them off with this dagger, and you should have seen his eyes, like is this right? Is this what I do? Just being so overwhelmed with panic and adrenaline and possibly something more sinister…
Tom had been screaming so long now that he faints, and the fiend at the window is doing something now that we can’t see, like he’s jumping up and down and his head isn’t really moving any higher, and he’s squealing like a hyena-man now, brings his legs up to his chest, when he headbutts the window and his his neck caught in the glass so badly that—
—Why are you telling me this? Holy shit I’m going to have the worst nightmares! Stop! What the fuck, man?
—Now hold on, cause here’s where it gets better. His head falls off.
—That’s not better.
—Yeah. His head falls off and turns into candy! At least that’s what it looks like to the kids. So Tim says, “Rod, a little off as I said before, goes up and grabs a jaw breaker, or what he thinks is a squishy and not very good or tasty jawbreaker, and then we all see that the shadows—”
“Wait a second,” Jim says over a stack of pancakes, actually, with pancakes in his mouth. “Just you wait a fucking second. You mean to tell me that his face turned into candy?”
“Well, that’s what Rod and Tom were saying, but if you ask me, Tom looked like he wasn’t believing the eye was a jaw breaker, he was looking like he knew full well what he was doing, but it was kind of like that moment in Lord of the Flies where they all just kill that kid and pretend like there’s some spirit there but it looks like they all know the truth and are just pretending, most of them really knowing? It was like that but for eating eyeballs.
“So as these two were cleaning up the ‘pinata,’ Nick and I stole out the backdoor, each of us armed with our swiss army knives we’d earned a badge for mastering. We snuck into the second cabin. Now Nick, who had been having some sort of skin issue and was digging a little too hard into his arm so that little chunks were starting to fall now, followed me under one of the bunk beds so that we could hide from whatever had been dwelling here. As our eyes adjusted to the darkness, the shades were closed, we saw some sort of star drawn within a circle in what looked like charred wood and mud, the floor totally smeared with it actually, and the marking was drawn in what looked like hand prints, though the fingers on the hand were long, strung out almost, and faint, like those you’d imagine a ghost would have, who with each passing decade found himself more stretched out from who he was, now given over to some dark and unknown forces. That’s when Nick stopped scratching and depositing arm flesh beneath the bunk, and said, “it all makes sense. All of it!””
And so begins the legend of the person in your apartment with knives in their face who moves things around while you’re home.
—Please don’t tell me this story.
“So Nick tells this dumb story and then dies. And that’s when I blacked out.” What’s his name says. “Or kind of died. There was a period of Tibetan death. An in accordance with Nick, who was born by the first son of a fugitive german—“
—Like in that movie we just watched?
“So because Nick was of middle class Tibetan descent, I acted within his traditional rights and hacked up the body into little pieces so that nothing of his earthly self would go to waste. Now, I had intended for the birds to carry him away into their little bodies and spread his digested self across the land so far and opposite his own that the gesture would…mean something.”
—Are you tired?
—Sweetie, you drank a lot. Come to bed.
—I didn’t drink a lot. I’m just acting like I did.
—Come to bed and finish your story.
—Maybe I will.
—It was a nice story. Come to bed.
—What’s in it for me?
—Sweetie, you have work in the morning. Come to bed.
—Fine. I love you.
—I love you, too.