The Children In The Lake

My daughter Dharma is six. She’s rowdy and fearless. Dauntless, even.  Since she’s been old enough to walk, she’s been drawn to the water. There’s one particular spot in the lake that she’s always been drawn to. We live in the woods on the edge of Lake Michigan. It’s a tiny, self sufficient commune that hardly anyone cares to know about. My great grandmother started her family here and we’re still here with a handful of others.

Ever since the first time I took her down the bent trunk path with us, she’s been fascinated by that little corner cove of the lake. She would sit on the shore and stare intently at the still water of the early morning while I went through the motions of leaving a food offering, singing an old song and making sure the candles were all burning.

Continue reading “The Children In The Lake”

My Bestfriend’s Perfect Match

I live in a small coal town on the Ohio river. Our community is pretty well crime free. Since we’re on the river, most disappearances are chalked up to people drowning and getting washed downstream. I want to keep track of my research, and this document will serve as a history of what I’ve found.

The most recent disappearance from our town was my oldest friend. The official chain of events was something like Jeff was out drinking with friends from out of town, they decided to go fishing, and he drown. They dredged the river but decided the current probably drug him too far out and he would pop up soon enough. Jeff didn’t drink, and he was with me that night.

Here’s what I’ve pieced together so far. He was sent out to visit an elderly woman through a volunteer organization he was a member of. Apparently Jeff hit it off with her granddaughter who was also there assisting her. She invited him out that night, the night he went missing.

Jeff was ecstatic. He called me right after he left the lady’s house. She was perfect to him, tan, fiery red hair, and loved country music. I’d never seen him get swept off his feet, and I’d never seen him actually get ready for a date before, either. I met him and his date that night with our mutual friend Jen as my date. She introduced herself as Lynn. I found her to be unremarkable, except for two things: the way she smelled and the reddish purple V under her eye. I can’t put an exact description to it, other than just really good. It wasn’t floral, sweet or any other word you would describe scent with, it was just a smell that made you feel content.

We had dinner and hit a little dance club the next town over. I think if he had had a ring, he would have been on one knee fast enough to crack concrete. He hung on her every word, he worshipped the ground she walked on. Suddenly, we couldn’t find a single sign of either. I checked my phone and had a text message from Jeff that read, “Headed to the river! ;)” That was the last time anyone heard from him.

I’m not Shaggy and Scooby. I gave every bit of this information to the police before I started my own search for the truth. Jen also verified it with them. They never responded to my inquiries on the status of the investigation, or whether or not my information helped. Jeff’s parents were also in the dark, so I decided to look into it myself.

My first step was to find the girl. I put out calls for help onto social media, friends and family of both of us shared it as far and wide as we could. We were looking for a short redhead with a V or check mark shaped mauve mark under her left eye under the guise of Jeff’s family just wanting to meet someone who was instantly important to him. I had a few leads come in, but no one who had actually met Jeff or had the mark under her eye.

I decided I should visit her grandmother. I called the organization that Jeff was working with, and kept the guise of trying to find the girl for Jeff’s parents to meet. The woman who handles their scheduling knew my mother, so she gave me an address. It wasn’t far from my parents house, so I took a walk. I purposely walked on the opposite side of the street.
There wasn’t a house there. I double checked the address the dispatcher gave me, I checked my phone’s map, and I checked the house numbers around it. Everything matched up, except this house was definitely not habitable. It was boarded up, it looked like it’d been on fire at some point. There was a lone window on what I assume is an attic or maybe a loft that wasn’t boarded up.

 

I saw someone in the window, just for an instant. It occurred to me that people live in all kinds of conditions. I crossed the street and opened the old chain link gate. The front door was covered by a sheet of plywood, so I crept around the back. No door at all, just an empty door frame. I checked around me. All of the yards within view were empty. I climbed up the old concrete steps and poked my head in the door.
“Anyone here?” I called out, “I was looking for someone who may have lived here?”
The house creaked, but no one answered. I decided that it was probably a squatter and I went back across the street. I called the charity scheduler and confirmed that was the address that Jeff had last went to. I went to the door of the house directly across the street. I knocked on the door.
“Hello?” a man looked skeptically at me, keeping his front door mostly closed.
“Hi, I was dropping something off for a friend, but the address he gave me is the house that burned down. Do you know where the people who lived there are now?”
“Well, I reckon it’s been boarded up for about four years now.”
“Oh…”
“Ms. Robinson lived there, had since I was just a squirt.” he shook his head, “But she didn’t make it outta that fire. I think the investigators said it was from a space heater she used in her living room.”
I thanked him for his time and turned around to head home, I saw some quick movement of something out of that uncovered window again. My entire way home it felt like I was being followed.
I called the police, too. I told them that the house Jeff had been sent to had apparently burned years ago. He talked to me like I was a fool and insisted that there was a home there and they had questioned the lady and she had said she didn’t have a granddaughter or any other young lady that would be visiting her. I asked if they’d take me to see the lady. They declined at first, but I pressed them and if I want to be completely honest, they probably thought it’d shut me up.
The next evening the squad car picked me up in front of my house. We turned onto the same street I’d been on before. I could vaguely smell something that smelled, well, good. It lulled me into some kind of contentment. We pulled up to the same address, but this time there was a whole house. No fire damage, not even so much as a lawn ornament out of its place. I looked across the street and there was the man I’d spoken with the evening before working in his yard.
I quietly composed myself in the squad car. I didn’t want to look like a crazy person, so I held in the flood of emotions that tried to overwhelm me. That house was not like that yesterday.
“You good? Let’s head in before I get sent on a call.”
I followed the officer up to the porch. Up close, there was something off about the house. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, though. I touched one of the posts supporting the roof over the porch. It looked freshly painted, but felt rough and cracked. The chairs on the porch leaned just a little too far to the side, things like the peephole that should have been circles were just slightly oblong. The officer knocked on the door.
When the door swung open, that vague pleasing smell washed over us like like a wave. Everything seemed a little more… right. A tall, broad woman with short grey hair filled the doorway.
“Mrs. Robinson, how are you this evening?” the officer asked.
“Still kind of sore, Officer Riley.” she said with a still sunny disposition, “How may I help you gentlemen?”
“This is Alex, he’d like to ask you about the boy that stopped by to help you and went missing.”
“Oh! I’m so sorry about your friend. He was such a help to me.”
“Riley tells me there wasn’t a little redheaded girl here?”
She gave a little frown and shook her head. It seemed like her whole face drooped with the frown. “No, just him and I were here. Red hair doesn’t even run in my family.”
“That’s weird. He kept going on about how glad he was that he volunteered because he met Lynn here while helping you out.”
She gave a little shrug with her hands up in the air. I saw genuine sympathy in her eyes.
“He also said you were short, and the guy across the street said this house burned down.” I turned to Riley, confused and unsatisfied, “I’m not exactly sure what’s happening, but I think we have the wrong house, Riley.”
“No, this is the place, this is the lady, everyone involved has confirmed it.”
“Jeff confirmed it? You talked to Lynn? Can I meet her?”
“I think we’re done here.”
He pulled me out of the house. I looked over my shoulder as we walked down her short front yard. The smell was getting more faint, the house started looking slightly off again. I saw Mrs. Robinson in the doorway, but she looked at least a foot shorter and with greying red hair. I hopped back in the passenger side of Riley’s cruiser.
“What the fuck is actually wrong with you, Alex?” he said as he stared me down.
“What the fuck was up with that house? It just felt… wrong. What the fuck was that smell? The only time I’ve smelled that is from that Lynn girl that was with Jeff when he disappeared.”
“The house isn’t ‘wrong’. It’s old. The shit inside is old. The lady, also, old.” he snapped, “Old shit, including people, seem a little off sometimes.”
“What about the smell? It’s not normal, it doesn’t smell like anything, but it makes everything feel just a little better. That house has something to do with Jeff, and that lady knows it.”
Riley hit his head against the steering wheel a couple of times and shook his head. “Don’t do anything stupid, Alex. If you’re harassing that lady, I’ll take you in.”
I kind of blew it off and he took me home. I called Jen that evening and asked if she remembered anything about Lynn.
“She smelled like patchouli.” she immediately answered, “My mom used a lot of patchouli scented incense when I was a kid.”
“I thought it was more of a… like… grandma’s cookies kind of smell. Something kind of vague but super comforting. I definitely kept thinking about stuff from when I was a kid most of the time.”
“I guess you might be right, it wasn’t exactly like patchouli, but it made me really comfortable.”
I told her I had to run some errands still and hopped off the phone. The smell had to have something to do with it. I text Jen and asked her if she remembers seeing anyone else that we knew that night while we were with Jeff and Lynn. She replied with a disappointing “no.”
I decided to go check it out again. This time, I would test if the smell had something to do with no one else seeing what was wrong with that house. On the way back there I stopped at the drugstore and picked up a pack of smelling salts. I figured the ammonia smell would overpower anything else I could smell.
I approached from a side street so I could see the house from further away. It looked perfectly normal from a block and a half down the street. As I approached, I paid close attention to the smells around me and tried to stay as casual as possible. I stopped before crossing the street to the block that Mrs. Robinson’s house sat on. A short person with long red hair went through the gate and around the side of the house.
I ran towards the house and hopped the fence. As soon as I rounded the corner, I saw a flash of red hair go around the back corner. I instinctively busted in the back door after it. There was no one there. I stood in there in the kitchen, the table was set and a pot boiling on the stove. The pot stood out, kind of like how things in the background of old cartoons are a little bit brighter or are styled a little differently.
I almost forgot what I was doing. I started smelling that delicate, indistinct smell. I peeked into the boiling water. It looked like just leaves and branches in the rolling boil. It seemed to be coming from the pot. My mind filled with old memories of my grandma, running the streets with Riley and Mike as a kid, and just about anything else that’d make me smile.
“Alex? Is that you? I thought I saw you walking down the street.” a soft female voice called through the house.
“Hey, Lynn!” I called out, putting porcelain dinner plate over the boiling pot to contain the vapors.
I cracked the smelling salts and took a whiff. It ripped me right out of it. The sweet memories shot out of my consciousness immediately. Everything was off. It was still the house I visited with Riley, but it was kind of like an impressionist idea of it. The fine details were rough sketches at best, everything kind of had a slight tilt to it. I cautiously stepped into the living room, and there was a red headed girl sitting on the couch, looking the opposite direction of me.
“Have you seen Mike?” she asked.
“No one has, I’ve been looking for you to try to see if he mentioned anything odd to you.”
She looked up at me, and I wish I could say I saw the tears first. The first thing I saw was her face full of wrinkles. Red hair, red birthmark, even the same voice, but she had the wrinkles of an old lady.
“He just up and left me!” she wailed.
I stepped in closer, it wasn’t wrinkles. it was bunching up on the sides, like some weird mask. I sat by her, I rubbed her back as she sobbed. Her cries had an odd quality, like it was some kind of recording from years ago.
“Where’s your grandma?” I asked.
She choked for a split second. “Out with a friend for the afternoon.”
I feigned checking my phone, “Oh shit! It’s six, I have a school thing.”
I jumped up to hurry out the door. A hand that felt like it was covered in an old dried out latex glove grabbed my wrist. “Alex, please don’t leave me here alone.”
“I’ll come back soon!” I promised.
I watched my back the whole way home. I couldn’t shake the feeling she was watching me, stalking me through my own town. I never saw her, or her bright red hair. I assumed she’d started doing meth or something. I called Riley, let him know that she was there so he could follow up on their end. He scolded me for going back, but agreed it’d be good if he could actually interview her.
I was paranoid for the entire trip, it seemed like bushes were wiggling with unseen bodies inside them. I actually walked up into someone’s yard and dug around in a shrub to make sure I wasn’t being stalked. Then, on the steps up to my house, there was a “cat.” It looked like a cartoon. Dark lines around the major parts, colors a little too vivid for a house cat. I poked it. It hissed at me, scratched my hand and ran off. It felt like a stuffed animal. I looked all around for signs of Lynn. Nothing. My heart pounded and anxiety soared.
Was I next? Suddenly I felt like a gazelle being watched by a lion. Was that little girl really capable of disappearing people? What did I breath in that house? A stuffed animal couldn’t scratch me. Fear and shock dug in deep, I stood in shock on the steps. I don’t know how long I stood there, staring at the old cement steps, but it hit me like a ton of bricks.
I sent Riley to talk to her. What if he’s next? I called his personal phone, I bounced on my toes so I wouldn’t explode with anxiety.
“Pickuppickuppickuppickup…” I chanted to myself in a hushed voice.
Voicemail. I ran back to the Robinson house. Maybe I could save Riley myself if I got there fast enough. I got to her street as Riley was knocking on the door. The door opened and he went in. I peeked in his cruiser. His phone was sitting on the dash. I crept up on the porch and peeked in the window. Riley was sitting on the couch, she was sitting across from him. She still looked wrinkly and folded to me, but Riley had a look one his face that he only had when he was ready to do one thing.
They never broke eye contact as she stood up and swung her hips back and forth. She swayed her small frame across the living room towards Riley, pulling her shirt off. More bunched up pale skin was hidden under her shirt, Riley seemed to be too entranced to notice. She mounted his lap and draped her arms over his shoulders. Then she opened her mouth and looked up to the ceiling.
It looked like she’d paused, but in reality, her mouth kept opening wider and wider. The skin on her face tore and flaked to the floor, revealing a mottled, splotchy skin painted with light browns. The head hidden behind that layer that I knew as Lynn was bulbous. It didn’t have eyes, a nose or even lips. Just a mouth that was practically from where it’s ears should have been to the other ear. A long brown and black tongue flicked across the uneven, sometimes sharp, sometimes flat teeth that filled it’s mouth.
She leaned back and twisted her neck. I don’t know how, but she looked at me. She knew I was there, watching. I got a little smile from her, then she rose up slowly and hunched over Riley, he puckered up for a kiss. She sunk her teeth into his head. It… it took most of this face. She struggled, but with a crack loud enough for me to hear through the window, she bit right through his skull. She devoured it like a dog, looking straight up in the air.
I scrambled for Riley’s cruiser. I grabbed the car radio and squeezed the button.
“Officer down! Officer Riley’s down! Some crazy bitch just ate his goddamn face!” I sobbed into the microphone.
The entire department, including off duty swarmed the street in minutes. They saw the house as burned down. The only sign of Riley they found in the house was his badge. I told them exactly what I saw, they sent me to the hospital for evaluation. I was informed that forensics didn’t find any signs of blood or any evidence anyone had been in the burnt house. I was released, now I’m home.
I still feel like the gazelle waiting to be pounced on. Whatever the hell that little girl with the V birthmark is, she’s dangerous, and she’s well aware that I know her secret. I’ve started carrying a handgun with me just in case. I don’t know that anyone in my town even remembers what I told the police, or believes it. In the event that I die before I’ve reached a conclusion to this nightmare that satisfies me, I’ve placed this document on a dead man’s switch. Without my attention, it will send it to a few large communities who may take up my crusade or use it as a cautionary tale to maybe save others.
Now I’m going to hunt her before she can take me, too.

Crybaby Bridge

Every state in America has the same legend, most places call them “Crybaby Bridge.” You stop somewhere, often it’s a covered bridge. You turn off your engine and wait. If it’s dirty there might be tiny hand prints on your car. It almost never works. If you’re really lucky, your car won’t restart. Visiting Crybaby Bridge was the most important thing a couple of bored teenagers could do during Halloween last year.

 

First came the stories with oddly specific details, they added to the legend first. Suddenly your car doors would lock when you stopped on the bridge. Or they *wouldn’t* lock once you turned your engine off. Some people told me that they heard the ghost of the mother screaming her baby’s name, other people swore the radio would shuffle through stations, despite nothing else in the car working. The most unique detail I picked up was a staticy voice asking where it’s baby went.

 

Soon after the new additions to the legend started, people started exaggerating their experience. It began with shadowy figures along the walls of the covered bridge, then it escalated into the doors being flung open. I saw a lot of people claiming that foggy black appendages reached in and tried to drag them from their disabled vehicle. Dark figures appearing against the walls of the bridge, skulking around their cars. No one had any evidence past their word.

 

Until Jon went. His family has since deleted the video and have been declining questions about it for awhile now. I think they just want it to go away. I wish it’d leave my head.

 

The video starts before Jon and his friends pull onto the bridge. He comes to a dead stop, hits park and kills the engine. His headlights start to flicker in the background, the radio screen flickers too. This woman appears at the far end of the bridge when the lights turn on. Then she’s gone when they turn off. You can hear continuous static from the radio and every time the lights flicker she’s a little closer to the car. When she gets about halfway to the car you can start making out some of her features. She’s kind of twisted up, her skins white as snow except for a deep red mark across her neck. Over the radio something starts to come through, after a few repetitions I easily recognized it as a gruff, yet feminine voice.

 

“Where’s my baby?” The voice mumbled over and over.

 

You could hear the car not starting, a brutal grinding sound as he tries the ignition. The passengers urging Jon to move the car. The passengers voices turn into an Old Fashioned of screams and pleas. The voice over the radio is almost drown out by the the passengers, but after watching the video a few times, I could focus on it. It was more and more frantic as it progressed, banging on the windows with her grey-ish hands.

 

The camera view spins around the car, there’s grey hands banging on all the windows, including the windshield and back window. The hands battering the windows blocked everything outside of the car from view. The windows shattered. One by one, with the hands disappearing into the blizzard of shards. In the chaos, the camera falls to the floor, the video ended with the woman’s voice growling, then shrieking.

 

They all made it home that night. No cuts or scrapes, bumps or bruises. The video was posted online, but never received many views before it disappeared. First the paper tried to talk to them, then the local people. No one ever had any luck. At school they withdrew from people they were once close with, and shunned anyone who asked about their night on the bridge.

 

After Halloween passed, everyone’s need to be scared out of their wits went by the wayside. Life went on, but Jon never seemed to be the same. He was suddenly on high alert all the time. In the halls he would constantly check behind him. Jon always looked like he’d come off of a double shift and was headed straight into another one.

 

I invited him over right before Thanksgiving. He’d been showing up to class less and less over the weeks following his #crybaby bridge video. The more scarce he became, the less they remembered the terrors of the bridge that night. We sat at the fire pit in the backyard and nursed shitty piss-water beers that I snagged from my dad’s stash.

 

He was still for the longest time, he just stared into the night. He’d lost the paranoia of the previous weeks. The hypervigilance had worn off. We sat in the quiet, wrapped in the silent air of the night, silent.

 

“You know,” he said, staring off into the dark of the night, “I don’t think she’s ever stopped searching.”

 

I sat my beer down. “What?”

 

“You know what I’m talking about. For awhile, I saw her everywhere.” He chugged from his can. “She crooned to me in the night, stalked me in the day.”

 

He shook the can side to side, stared into the emptiness of the can. The silence felt like it lasted aeons to me, but he seemed to have shed all worry. I couldn’t see a drop of despair, hopelessness, or sorrow. His face told me a story his tone would compliment, there was defeat lacing his words, but his expressions, his body, his motions all spoke of acceptance.

 

“What exactly happened after?”

 

He crunched his can in his hand then ran his hands across his face and through his hair. A frustrated exhalation. “As soon as I got back to my bed, the tapping happened. At first it was like one small hand, slapping the glass every couple of minutes. After a while, another one started coming from a different window, then from my bedroom door, closet door, then finally from my desk drawers.”

 

Another beer for Jon. He smiled to himself with a self acknowledging nod. “It was kind of chaotic. Every night it started, always just one, then more would join. It was… kind of like a symphony. I’d just kind of stay put. I’d tried to stay in school, but I had to sleep at some point.”

 

I grunted and nodded in agreement with him.

 

He shook his head at me, “Haven’t you noticed the hand prints?”

 

“I, uh, no?” I stammered.

 

He stood up and started walking towards the the driveway. I jumped up and followed him.

 

“Check the bumpers, trunks and tailgates.” He bounced on his toes.

 

Every single one, little hand prints.

 

“Are you fucking with me? I was just worried about you, dick.”

 

He smiled, shook his head and wiped some of the dust from one of the bumpers. “I never believed in any of that paranormal bullshit. It was all fun stories when we were kids. Even my parents said they never saw anything at Cry Baby Bridge.”

 

I shrugged, my parents said they hadn’t experienced anything either. “So the video was real?”

 

“What kind of fucking person do you think I am? Of course it was real.”

 

He opened his car door and sat sideway in the driver’s seat. We stood there in an awkward silence again.

 

“Do you thi–” I stopped mid sentence, he looked terrified. White washed like a cartoon character that saw a ghost.

 

“Can you hear it?” He searched around frantically from his seat. A dull thump slowly filled the driveway. I looked all around and under the cars. Nothing. Thump. Thump. Thump.

 

His tires screeched as he whipped out of my driveway in reverse.

 

“Don’t fucking look at her and get inside!” he yelled from his window before he sped down the dark road.

 

I kept seeing black, misty amorphous forms in the peripherals of my vision. I ran for my front door. I locked every door and window the house, then closed every curtain and blind and turned one every light in the house. Even lamps when overhead lights were already on. The house was filled with an eerie silence. A noise started, almost unnoticeable from the front door. At first it could have been a cat scratching at it. It had a pattern, but I couldn’t quite make out what made up the pattern. I snuck towards the door as quietly as I could. I pressed my ear to the door to try to make it out. It dawned on me that it was mumbling, the same indistinct thing, over and over slowly.

 

Then the air conditioner kicked on, and my heart and larynx met. I settled my ear back against the door. The mumbling seemed to be getting closer to the door, it sounded like “gebbe mebebeb” over and over. I jumped back when the mail slot started rattling. The mail slot door shot open and the void was filled with two milky, bloodshot eyes. I slammed the inside flap shut. Whoever it was let out the most guttural, primal scream. A paper white hand burst through the mail slot and gripped the door and started jerking on it. The way the door flexed and creaked you’d think it was Andre The Giant trying to break into my house.

 

I’m not proud of it, but I called nine one one. I peeked through the peephole while the phone rang. She couldn’t have been much bigger than five nothing, and maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet. I stayed on the line. The operator answered and my phone flew to the ground. The door suddenly stopped. I picked up my phone, told the man on the other end of the line what happened and that she appeared to be gone. He told me he’d send a cruiser my way anyway just to check the area for her.

 

I hung up and looked in the mirror my mom kept by the entry way as a decoration. One by one the edges gained small little hand prints. Silent and spontaneous it didn’t have a pattern or even a source. Then the handprints started covering my reflection, they became more and more opaque as they blurred me out.

 

My blur went from a grease on glass white to black in just a moment, and the mirror crashed to the ground. There she stood. It wasn’t a dope head, it was the woman from Jon’s video. She stared through me, bloodshot eyes twitching, her head cocked slightly back and to the side. She walked towards me, one hand covering her mouth, the other wrapped around her stomach. A thick red welt around her porcelain white neck stood out prominently. I couldn’t see it coming at the time, but she raised her hand from her stomach and touched it to my cheek. Warm, wet, smelled metallic. I jerked backwards. Her hand was covered in blood, her middle was nearly bisected.

 

Her entire body shook. Her expression slid from sorrowful to scorned. She snarled her lip. I ran from the entry way, up the stairs and into the kitchen. She pursued. When she tried to enter the kitchen, she froze right before the doorway.

 

She searched the door frame with her eyes. They locked onto something above the door. She laughed. It was hoarse and slow, but she laughed. She pointed up.

 

“Cleverrrr…” she creaked at me, “you… give… my… baby.”

 

“I don’t have a baby.” I stuttered.

 

She vanished. I tried to sleep in the kitchen that night, but the knocking on the windows kept me up. My parents got home late the next morning. After they got home I looked above the doorway. A horseshoe was hanging.

 

I called Jon. Straight to voicemail. I spent some of the morning hanging horseshoes over my windows and doors. Fortunately my mom has a thing for country western decor. I was sitting in my room, at a loss. Was it over? Would she keep coming back? My phone startled me back to reality. The call came in as “Restricted”

 

“Josh? Have you seen Jon?” the voice trembled.

 

“He was here last night. Who is this?”

 

“I’m his mom, I’ve been calling numbers from his cell bill. They found his car wrecked last night, but he wasn’t there.”

 

“He hung out for a little, but he left around 10:30.” I answered.

 

We both sat silently for a moment.

 

“I tried to call him this morning,” I offered, “but it went straight to voicemail.”

 

“Me too…”

 

I told her my mom needed me, and promised to call if I found out anything. I stared out my bedroom window. Hand prints, all around the edges of the windows. My room is on the second floor.

 

My phone started ringing. It read “OHIO CALL” and a number with my area code.

 

“Hello?” I answered.

 

“Josh. Did she come for you?”

 

“Jon, what the fuck? Your mom said you wrecked your car?”

 

“Yeah, look, she came for me on my way home. I ran through the trees I wrecked into. I was running across a creek, and I tripped and fell on a little island type shit. For whatever reason, she couldn’t cross the water, so I crashed there.” he sped through. “But what about you?”

 

“She came through the big mirror in the front door. What the fuck is she?”

 

“I thought she was a ghost,” Jon grumbled, “But when she reached through the mirror, she smacked me in the face. It felt like a honest-to-God person cracked me upside the head.”

 

“Do you actually know a goddamn thing about what’s going on?!”

 

“Fuck you! I’ve made it this far!” Jon snapped back at me.

 

“By dumb fucking luck, apparently.”

 

*Boop*

 

He’d hung up on me. I scoured the internet for more information. I read and read as the sun disappeared into the horizon. There weren’t any results for anyone who died on the bridge. The results for Cry Baby Bridge were also sadly inconclusive. I started looking at things stopped by horseshoes, things stopped by iron.  Two results, consistently.

 

Ghosts, and witches.

 

I called the local Historical Society. A lady with a little too much nasal passage answered the phone.

 

“Historical Society, how may I assist you?”

 

“I was wondering about anything you knew about the old covered bridge.”

 

She was silent for a moment, then scoffed.

 

“That’s just an urban legend, you know.”

 

“I know, and it’s silly, but it’s been a really popular thing with my friends recently and I wanted to see if I could learn anything to spook them.”

 

I already knew enough to scare every person in the state into a full blown panic attack or coronary event.

 

“Call Ruth,” she answered without hesitation, “She knows more about it than anyone.”

 

“Thanks! Where can I reach her?”

 

“Wait, wait, wait! I should probably tell you, I think she’s got some dementia going on. So, please take it all with a handful of salt. I personally think she’s on a one way ticket to a ward, but she’s our longest standing member and has always had a fascination with those stories.”

 

She gave me her number before I hung up.I immediately called Ruth.

 

“Good afternoon!” she chirped into the phone.

 

“Hi, The Historical Society said you knew a lot about the old covered bridge on the edge of town.”

 

She laughed, “What would you like to know?”

 

“I guess the biggest question is did anyone really die on that bridge?”

 

“Well of course they have. A few horse drawn carriage incidents, a few automobile accidents…”

 

“You know that’s not what kind of dying I’m talking about.” I scolded.

 

“Oh, do you mean Eliza Lewis? She’s the one the kids are talking about lately.”

 

“What happened to her?”

 

“It’s all very sad. From what I’ve gathered reading old letters and journals, she was an outcast here. The local children were terrified of her, although it seems it was just because she lived here alone. Whispers of witchcraft flowed through our little town. All of the accounts from the time say our community just left her be.”

 

“Then how’d she die?”

 

“Well, apparently, one of the local young men fell for her. It must have been in secret, because eventually she started showing, and some of the more… brazen residents took notice. They interrogated her, found out which Johnny Appleseed left his appleseed. He adamantly denied it, of course. He got trapped in his lie when a neighbor said they saw him coming and going at odd hours from her home. He played stupid. It was clearly her working some dark juju that brainwashed him into coming to her and performing the service of Venus he told the town.”

 

Ruth took a moment, she was quiet, but her breathing was heavy.

 

“They bought it. Hook, line and sinker.” Ruth gave a disappointed chuckle, “She had started to leave town while the meeting was in place. It’d started storming, so she took shelter in the old covered bridge you kids call Crybaby Bridge, now.”

 

“Oh shit…” I interrupted.

 

“Oh shit is probably what she said when half of the town came up on her in the middle of a thunderstorm. She would hang that night, in the oak tree that hangs over the river, right there next to the bridge. While she swung in the tree, someone in the mob thought of the baby she carried. While she choked and sputtered, the monsters cut the baby from her abdomen.”

 

“Did the baby live?” I interrupted again.

 

“Eh, some of the letters I’ve read say it was thrown down into the river, still screaming, some say an old lady took it home to care for it. I can’t really tell you which is true. They left her hanging there for days, though. The people were so convinced she was a witch that they left her hanging while someone put together a cast iron casket for her. All of the eye witnesses said she was buried vertically, head first in the iron casket. Occasionally, women suspected of witchcraft were buried that way so that they couldn’t dig out as easily, and so that perhaps they would dig in the wrong direction. The iron casket was a special touch some special man thought of. He thought it’d seal her in.”

 

Ruth laughed to herself.

 

I was quiet for a moment. “So, did it?”

 

Ruth exhaled like I’d sucked the fun from her lungs, “She’s dead and witches aren’t real, darling.”

 

“Where is she buried?”

 

“In a little cemetery that was abandoned shortly after she was buried there. Everyone essentially refused to have their loved ones buried with a witch.”

 

“But, where is it?” I pressed.

 

She huffed, “Don’t do anything stupid, just let the poor lady rest.”

 

“Oh, I just wanted to see it for myself and maybe leave some flowers…”

 

She mumbled some deliberation to herself.

 

“Alright,” she said with an air of confidence, “You seem like a genuinely nice kid, so just promise me you’ll be respectful.”

 

“Of course!”

 

“If you go out Deer Trail, turn right after the tree you’ll see a patch of woods between two fields. It’s all the way at the back of that wooded lot.”

 

“Is it private property?”

 

“Yep, but the owner doesn’t keep up with it, so it’ll be fine.”

 

I thanked her, then immediately called Jon. I sat in my bed and fidgeted with a horse shoe, nervously watching my windows.

 

“Whats up?” he answered.

 

“They killed her because they thought she was a witch. She was pregnant and they ripped the baby right out of her.”

 

“Uhh… are you alright?”

 

“The lady from the bridge, you dumb shit! Get your truck and get over here, we need to check her grave.”

 

He agreed and was on his way. I’m not sure why I was so adamant about checking her grave. Something kept telling me it would give me some kind of comfort or key to the whole shebang.

 

We didn’t talk much on the ride there. We could see black fog scattered through the trees along the side of the road. We drove faster. There was a little access road through the lot she had directed me to. It was overgrown with saplings and weeds. The truck pushed through. It felt like the fog closed in around us after we pulled off the main road.

 

Towards the back there was a little unfenced cemetery. We scoured through the old flat headstones. All the way back in the very corner, there it was. Eliza Lewis. No date, or anything else. The air was still, the black haze was closing in around us. From behind the fog yellow eyes started popping open, all in the tree lines surrounding us.

 

“Where is she?” an angry voice growled from behind us.

 

We turned, there she was, standing between us and the truck. The fog and eyes seemed to be closing in around us. There must have been hundreds of pairs of eyes packing the brush and trees around the cemetery.  She took shaky steps towards us.

 

“Eliza Lewis!” I barked with authority.

 

She stopped dead in her tracks. Her eyes went wide.

 

And she laughed a deep belly laugh. The eyes in the woods drew closer to us. As the neared the edge of the woods they were faintly outlined in the shape of children, from toddlers to preteen size. I couldn’t recognize any of them,  but there were dozens.

 

“Tell me!” she shrieked, pointing at Jon with an emaciated pointer finger.

 

The surrounding bodies rushed him. I was thrown at least ten feet to his truck with absolutely no effort. They seized both of his arms and lifted him up and back, his chest upward. Eliza swayed towards him.

 

“Get away from him!” I commanded.

 

She didn’t respond, she sashayed closer with an exhausted stutter between steps.

 

“I fucking said let him go!” My voice cracked with rage as I pulled myself up on his truck.

 

It was silent other than my yelling. Then came the wet squish. She was  wrist deep in his chest. She twisted her hand and he writhed in pain. He choked and gurgled while she started jerking her hand like she was trying to rip something out of him.

 

I made eye contact with him. He stretched his arm out and pointed at the path out with a shaking hand. I scrambled into the truck. My heart sank, I didn’t have the keys.

 

My breathing spiraled out of control, I started getting light headed. Eliza turned a partial turn and looked dead at me. She rose her bloody hand from his chest, dragging something blue and hazy out of his chest. Her cold unwavering stare stopped everything, my heart, my head, my panicked shaking.

 

In a moment of clarity, something inside of me screamed to check the ignition. He left the keys. I hit the ignition, slammed the shifter into reverse and went onto two wheels onto the road. Nothing in my mirrors, nothing on the roads alongside me. I checked my rear view mirror again. Fingerprints around the edges, very gradually, very slowly popping up.

 

I ripped it right off the windshield and threw it out of my window. I blew threw every stop sign and light on my way home. I’m surprised I made it just from the trip home. I holed back up in my room. Then my phone started ringing. I picked it up and was greeted with “Incoming Call: Jon.”

 

My brain stopped working for a second. I guess the harsh reality of what happened hadn’t really set in yet. I saw him die with my own eyes, but I swiped the green circle anyway with an enormous weight ripped from me.

 

“Jon! How the fuck did you get out?!”

 

Silence, save for a little static.

 

“…Jon?” I asked.

 

“Jon… give me… my… baby…” a raspy woman’s voice whispered.

 

I dropped my phone. It finally hit me that he died back there. The voice, no longer a whisper cackled through my phone, louder than my phone had ever put out. I grabbed it and ended the call, but the laughter kept booming from my phone. I jerked the backplate off and ripped the battery from it.

 

My room went silent.

 

The slow laugh boomed through my room. My windows rattled in their frames, covering my ears offered no relief. I curled up on my bed and clutched my ears. It all went quiet again when something slammed against my window. There was Eliza. Floating, staring in my second story window at me. She pointed at me and smiled a sweet smile.

 

She slammed something into my window again. It was Jon. Or some weird foggy blue version of Jon that she could fling around by a handful of his hair. He had this big shit eating grin on his face and his eyes were…. empty? To this day I can’t find the words that really describe it. Looking into them made me feel like he was simply a husk. He hung by his hair, his face smashed to my window.

 

I did what any reasonable teenager would do. I hid under my blanket and cried. It felt like hours passed before I could muster the nerve to peek out from the safety of my cocoon. All clear. I called the police, told them that we were attacked visiting a cemetery for a friend and I was afraid they’d killed Jon, but he told me to run for it. They said they’d send an officer by for a statement, and to keep my doors locked just in case.

 

I called Ruth, as soon as she answered I blabbered into the phone, “Eliza was there, and she took my friend Jon somehow? I don’t really fucking know what happened, but she came to me and was flinging him at my window or something?”

 

She exhaled through her mouth in frustration, then silence.

 

“Did she say anything to you?” she asked nonchalantly.

 

“I… uh… “ I stammered, “She keeps saying something about a baby?”

 

“I’m guessing you have a cross or cast iron or something above your window or door that’s keeping her out, too?”

 

“Y-yeah. How’d you know? What the fucks going on?”

 

“Give me your address, I’m on my way.”

 

I gave her my address and stood by my window. I could see wispy blue figures standing barely in sight behind trees, cars, bushes, or whatever cover they could take. They stared straight up into my window, right into my eyes, even from the farthest reaches of my vision. Shortly after I hung up a small grey car zipped into my driveway. The shadow like figures drew near to the car.

 

A short, stout woman with grey hair appeared out of the car. She walked up the drive with purpose, but also a deep seated confidence. I watched Eliza’s… things start to swarm in on her, then suddenly zip off back to cover like cockroaches when the lights turn on.

 

“It’s me, Ruth, from the Historical Society!” she yelled as she walked in the door.

 

I ran into the hallway to meet her at the stairs. We shook hands. She looked like my grandma.

 

“Let’s step outside.”

 

I stared at her blankly. “I uh… there’s these things out there…” I swallowed hard and weighed my options for a moment, “And this is going to sound either crazy or plain stupid, but, I’m pretty sure they’re after me.”

 

“The drones will leave us be, dear.” she assured me and squeezed my shoulder.

 

She proceeded to pretty much shove me out of the front door. The sky had turned black in the short time that I’d been away from the windows, for as far as I could see in any direction.

 

“Call her out.”

 

I gave her the most sincere “what the actual fuck” look I have ever given someone. She motioned for me to get on with it.

 

I stumbled with my words. I shouted her name out into the darkness.

 

Nothing.

 

“Honey… really put yourself into it.” Ruth calmly suggested.

 

“Eliza Lewis! I have your baby!”

 

The temperature dropped like a lead balloon. I could see my breath when it had been unseasonably warm just seconds before. Lightning struck from the clouds to the ground,

 

“Where?!” She boomed from the air.

 

She was floating at least ten feet in the air, her eyes were angry. I could see her flayed open stomach, I could see the bruises on her neck. I started backing away to run back to the protection of my room. Ruth was in the way.

 

“Those little horse shoes might not keep her out right now,” she warned in a delicate grandmotherly voice, “She’s pissed.”

 

“I knew you had my baby!” she screeched.

 

The car and house windows rattled violently. Some of them cracked. Ruth approached her, and reached out to her with her right hand.

 

“It’s time for you to rest, Eliza.”

 

She shrieked again, and pointed to Ruth. The drones swarmed towards her. Ruth looked up to Eliza. Stared right into her eyes and quietly said “No.”

 

The drones blew away like dust in the wind. Eliza became angrier and dropped to the ground. She appeared behind Ruth with no warning, and tried to shove her hand through her like how she took Jon.

 

“I. said. No.” Ruth reiterated.

 

Eliza emitted a painful scream, her hand jammed against Ruth’s back. She turned to face Eliza.

 

“Look in my eyes.”

 

Suddenly the air wasn’t so heavy,  the clouds lightened just a single shade.

 

“You have it…” Eliza said in shock, “You have the mark… are you?”

 

I hadn’t noticed it before, but Ruth had the same birthmark under her eye as Eliza.

 

“I am, but I can’t allow you to take anymore living people, dear.

 

Ruth made a fist and extend her arm back to Eliza. She broke down into a smoky black substance and then was sucked into Ruth’s ring. She turned to me and squeezed my hands.

 

“Don’t you mention this to a single person. Not his family, not yours.”

 

“But, his mom should–”

 

“No. No one will believe you and if I find out you spilled the beans, I’ll send her for you.”

 

I don’t know if she’ll ever see this. I don’t know if Jon’s mom will ever see this. But if they do, hope for mercy. If you visit a Crybaby Bridge in southern Ohio, maybe you know why nothing happens when you shut your car off at night now.

 

Image by Deron Meranda – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21269507

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