Well Wishes

A way too young kid gets on a motorcycle for the first time. A bunch of guys with cut-off shirts, drinking cheap beer with bad tattoos are egging him on. You know exactly what’s going to happen, no extra sensory perception necessary.

You’re watching him put away the clean dishes. You know something is going to break, not because he’s clumsy, but because you just know it somehow. If you’re on your game, you can even call it out before it happens. You blurt out something along the lines of “Watch it break”, or “Don’t drop any”, and then of course it happens and somehow you catch the blame when in reality, you should be getting credit for making the call.

It’s different with people because you can see them. Maybe the blind are better at it. It’s hard not to bite on the preconceived dangling carrot of a successful man with an impressive physique and bright, blue, life-changing eyes. But that’s why they hang carrots out there in the first place, as bait.

Any random filthy guy cleaning out the fryer at the fast-food place before they open might be a better person, but nerdy bait dressed in full uniform, including the paper hat, even when no one is around to see him isn’t quite as palatable and therefore he is much easier to dismiss.

Tell yourself whatever you think you want to hear for self-justification, but you’re only lying to yourself. You always knew better. You’re not sure how or why, but somehow, you knew.

After the failed abduction attempt at the restaurant, John fled on foot towards home. His only detour was the department store, a quick pit stop for interrogation supplies.

“After your time in the witch’s lair, I know you heard something, you just don’t know it yet. Let’s start from the top,” John said.

He opened up the package and assembled the pieces on the floor next to Roy.

“You’re going to talk my friend, one way or the other. I’m nothing if not patient. Do your best. Remember, if we find her, you’ll be free,” John said.

Over the decades, many have decried it as a tool of the devil himself, while some say it is nothing more than a harmless game. For certain people, it is a peak through the shroud of the physical world, a paranormal post office designed to give and take messages from the other side. The planchet cannot lie, only a user has that capability.

The inside of John’s second floor apartment was impressively sparse. He didn’t lie when he told me he didn’t have a phone. Besides the fridge that came with the place, there were no electric appliances of any kind. No toaster, no microwave oven, no hot plate, and for the love of God, no coffee maker.

There was no television, or table to place one on, or couch, or chairs. In the corner of the living room, on the floor, there was a conglomeration of radio devices all hooked to one speaker about the size of a dessert plate. It was composed of a standard AM/FM radio, a shortwave radio hooked to a long wire antenna that circled the ceiling of the room, and a police scanner.

Against the other wall was a stack of hard cases designed to keep scoped rifles safe during travel, a Ouija board and a leather duffel bag. Another identical duffel looked to serve as a pillow for the neatly laid out sleeping bag in the center of the room.

In the window was a telescope on a tripod, the kind an amateur would use to look at the moon on a clear night and still see nothing but a white smudge. I looked through it’s fixed position and wondered why he would be focusing on an HVAC unit on the rooftop of the mall.

No dishes, no food, an empty medicine cabinet, and no toiletries were visible besides a straight razor and one small, white towel. There wasn’t even any trash. I didn’t expect a bed, but I had to look in the bedroom anyways. Inside, I didn’t expect a CPR dummy either, but there it was, looking right at me.

There was no bedroom furniture of any kind and nothing in the closet, just the dummy pieced-out against the wall under the window next to a large empty gym bag. It’s arms and legs stacked neatly in a row.

“What the hell are you doing here?” I asked.

Looking back, I’m glad he didn’t have the ability to answer verbally. Turning his head to respond was jarring enough to my psyche that I had to wonder if I had broken a blood vessel in my brain. Really, I should have expected it, but accepting life from an inanimate object is notoriously difficult.

“Oh, my, God. It’s you,” I stammered.

He nodded his head affirmatively.

“It was you the whole time, in the window, running through the mall, everything, right?” I asked.

Again, affirmative.

There was a lag between the reality of what I was looking at and my understanding. I asked another question, hoping my mind could catch up.

“You did jump out of John’s arms that first night when we brought you to storage?” I asked.

He nodded yes.

“What are you? Can you see me? Obviously, you can’t talk.” I was officially waste deep in sensory overload.

It’s too easy to draw a pre-conceived notion when your subject can only provide yes or no answers. With that kind of control, I could circumstantially place him on the grassy knoll if I had to. I needed real answers from this thing, there had to be a way. If it could see, what did it see, and for how long? What was it, or maybe the better question was, who was it?

It seemed to be twitching its head in one direction, almost as if it wanted to draw my attention towards something. I didn’t catch-on until I heard the keys rattle in the door.

He’s back, he’s back! God I wish you could hear me. Look at me, look at my head. Hey, hey! He’ll kill you!

I ducked into the unused closet and quietly closed the door.

Due to the change in pressure, the interior doors of the apartment took a visible breath every time the main entry door opened or closed. I know because it happened five times over the course of the next hour. Finally, John came into the bedroom.

“It’s time, let’s go,” he said.

My heart was beating out of my chest while he packed the dummy up in the bag. I kept my hand on my gun, my next move playing out over and over in my head until there was one last breath of the door, and then all was quiet.

I gave it a few minutes before I came out. The apartment was cleaned out, right down to the single towel on the rack in the bathroom. I searched for a clue, anything that might tell me where he was going. The last place you look is on the door you leave through. There, stuck smack dab in the middle was a small note.

It read, ‘Dear Philippine, I’ll see you there.’

Did he know I was here, or did he just expect me to be?

A cocktail napkin stained with directions presumably penned by a fellow coven member was the chip I used to go all-in. A hunch bet perpetuated by a cartoony, porcelain witch glued to a magnet and tasked with holding papers to the side of Tempest’s refrigerator.

My destination was smack dab in the middle of a large tract of state forest. Due at least in part to relatively recent life events, one of the last places I wanted to be was in the woods. To make matters more complicated, I didn’t have an address, more like a general area. It was about an hour and a half north of the city, give or take. Would I see him there? Is that even what he meant?

About a buck forty-five later I found the obscure parking area depicted as a smudge on the napkin. Off the blacktop forest road, onto a gravel road, down a short two-track grass in the middle road, there was finally a spot to pull down next to the creek that ran under the road. There was parking for five cars, and I would have been number six. I drove past, hoping for another spot up the road.

As the condition of the road worsened, I was either going to have to find an acceptable spot to turn around or start backing up. Struggling through a “Y” turn, my headlights reflected off something deep in the woods. I backed up slightly further than I probably should have so that the hi-beams could have a better look.

Although I tried, forward was no longer possible, regardless of how hard I stepped on the accelerator. Stuck nearly perfectly perpendicular in the road, the car rocked, spun, and screamed like it was having muddy sex with the ground. The back tire smoked when it was over.

“I was going to be walking anyways,” I said to myself.

It had been an unusually warm winter with more rain than snow. I set off wearing a black winter hat, a hooded sweatshirt under my trusty flannel, and hiking boots I thought I’d never use again. I carried a plastic flashlight I bought off an end cap at a gas station in one hand and my pistol in the other. I tucked a few extra clips in my back pocket.

The forest floor was damp, the wet leaves wove a stinky carpet that looked like it should have made more noise when I walked. As I approached it became apparent that the reflection was pitted chrome on a rusty truck. At first glance, I may have considered it to have been abandoned some time ago, if not for the warm engine. It was backed in as far as the driver could muster before nature got in the way. Everything John apparently owned was inside, everything but the dummy.

I had to get back to the parking lot in order to have any chance at following the directions. I was admittedly spooked by every noise and developing shadow in the forest. I heard a banging noise made of wood in the not too far distance. An owl, bellowing his disapproval of my presence cost me at least a few quality years off the end of my life, assuming I lived that long.

Back on the road I picked up my pace, fearful that I may have been too late for whatever I might find. The terrain was comprised of old growth forest spanning steep hills and valleys created by the retreating glaciers at the end of the last ice age. Among the trees, occasional remnants of the area’s first annexed farmsteads rose like grave sites in a city park.

From the top of what I hoped would be the last hill, I could see firelight twinkling off treetops in the distance. I made my way hastily down the path. A curiously placed fallen tree on my way to the cheese was the wall of my maze. I was the mouse who just noticed the wood chips from the ax a moment too late before falling into an abandoned well turned into a Burmese tiger pit.

With inadequate time to fashion punji sticks, the architect tossed a rusted-out section of a chisel plow down the well, teeth up. I was lucky to have fallen next to it, if falling into the well in the first place was any luck at all.  A few cuts and bruises with a heady dose of shock seemed like it would be the worst of it. The water at the bottom was around a foot deep, smelled like a swamp and was about as cold as water could feel.

With my own mind working against me, I began to panic as I felt like I was taking far too long to catch the breath taken from me in the fall. I was standing now, shivering nearly uncontrollably. My fingers moved in slow motion and I tried to move the plow into a position where I might be able to climb out, or at least get out of the water.

The rusted pieces bent and gave way just as I made it above the water line sending me right back to the bottom of the well. Maybe ten feet above, the dark sky offered little contrast to the black brick, barely enough to make out the head and shoulder silhouette of the person watching me.

“Hey! Hey! Help me, please!” I pleaded.

The form disappeared sort of like the ghost stories you always hear about where a person supposedly sees a moving shadow out of the corner of their eye.  

Receiving no response after repeated attempts and an inordinate amount of time, I quietly wept while half-heartedly searching for finger and toe purchase in the brick of the walls.

“You bastard!” I yelled.

For a moment, I thought those would be the last words a person would hear me say until a piece of rope fell across my face. Pencil thin, and far too weak to climb out with, I pulled it until it tightened. Instead of the resistance of an anchor, it felt like I was pulling something towards the hole.

Whatever it was, I could hear it scraping across the leaves until its shadow appeared above the hole. I pulled harder, it was heavier on the unseen end, like a counterweight. One more mighty yank, and then it came all too quickly down the well.

It cracked me hard on my forehead, putting me on my butt right back in the water again. I was lucky to have a thick hat on, if getting hit in the head with a home-made wooden ladder in the bottom of the well was any luck at all.

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