You could call this a #cryptid, or #ghost, or #horror story, even a kind of love story. The main thing you will call it is unforgettable.
Mid-August, 40 years ago, East Texas
I had never met or seen, even in a photograph, my paternal grandmother. Little did I know this first visit would be my last. I was eight years old. We actually did not live that far from her, but that was the excuse my mom gave every time the subject of the 'other' (paternal) grandmother came up.
Mom told me my dad had died int 'the war'. She never bothered specifying what war or what country, just 'the war'. Found out much later he got a medical/general discharge from the Army for using drugs. He somehow found out he was about to be court martialed for his drug use, but he 'admitted his problem' to his commanding officer, so they just let him out of the service with a general discharge. Shortly after this, and about one hundred days before I was born, my dad died of a massive coronary triggered by an equally massive meth overdose. Apparently, the war he died in was 'the war on drugs'.
The only picture I had ever seen of him was the picture Mom kept on our living room wall in our small apartment. It was his basic training photo and he was in his dress green uniform. In the picture, he was totally bald, so I only had a vague idea of what he actually looked like. She claimed to not have any other pictures of him.
Mom pushed her red Cavalier, which she called--sometimes affectionately, sometimes mockingly--the 'little red wagon', to its limits trying to get to Grandma's house. It only overheated twice, and we finally made it a little after noon.
There was a long gravel driveway up to the small wood frame house. There were a lot of old pecan trees in the large front yard. As Mom got out of the car, Grandma came out the front door. As they stood facing one another, a look passed between them that was awfully close to hate. I ran around the front yard, collecting pecans.
"Tyler!," Grandma called. "Come here and let me get a look at you!" Since all my pockets were already full of pecans, I dropped the ones in my hands and ran up to Grandma. As I ran towards her, a look of shock came over her face. When I got close enough, she grabbed me by the arms and took a good look at me. Her jaw dropped. She looked over at Mom. She looked back at me. "He's the spitting image," she said quietly. "The spitting image." She drew me in and gave me a big hug.
"So you like pecans, do you?," pronouncing pecan pea-can, which I had never heard before. Not really, I thought. Just seemed like the thing to do. "Well, I've got a big pecan pie I made just for you in the kitchen. Would you like a slice right now?"
"He hasn't had his lu--," my mom began. "Never mind."
We started walking towards the small white wood house. I noticed small seashells embedded in the ground, which, even as a young child, kind of freaked me out because we were somewhat WEST of Houston. I remember the house itself as being on 'stilts'. Almost undoubtedly, it was elevated by some kind of pier and beam foundation. It seemed to me the actual house was twenty feet off the ground. A more realistic estimate would be six feet.
We walked up the creaky stairs to the front porch. On the right side of the front door I saw a large, rusted, metal rocking chair with a filthy cushion. On the left side, an almost equally large fake owl perched on the--railing?, I guess is the word--, which scared me, but not enough to make me shout or cry.
The first thing I noticed as we entered the house was the smell. Later, I would notice that ALL houses occupied by senior citizens, of which I'm soon to be one, had some variation of this smell. Musty and medicinal. The house, like the Houston area itself, was hot and humid, despite all the windows being open, but the slight breeze made low to no impact. Apparently, Grandma Augusta had something against air conditioning.
The living room and the kitchen were on the right side of the house, three small bedrooms and the bathroom on the left. All the furniture in the living room was covered with white sheets. We walked across the polished wood floor into the kitchen and sat down at the too-large-for-the-room thick wooden table situated in the middle of the green and white tiled floor.
Grandma gave me a large slice of pecan pie. Now THIS was the kind of lunch I could appreciate! Mom and Grandma ate smaller slices, and looked at each other with some undefined suspicion. Even I, as a pretty stupid and oblivious little boy, could feel the tension rising. I quickly wolfed down the pie and asked to be excused. Grandma stood up and escorted me to the room in which I would be sleeping (the middle bedroom). Mom quickly put down her fork and caught up with us.
"You're putting him IN THERE?!," Mom veritably shouted.
"Why shouldn't I?," Grandma responded.
"But that was his...I mean...you think it'll be alright?"
"It's just a room, dearie. Just a room." Undoubtedly, she didn't intend it that way, but that statement was one of the biggest lies I have ever heard in my life.
Grandma opened the door for me. The walls were painted green, unlike the white walls throughout the rest of the house. Under the window, a small bed with green blankets and sheets. On the other side, a child's size wood desk and chair. On the small table by the bed, I saw it. A five by seven photo.
IT WAS ME.
Or rather, it was what I would look like in about two years. It was a picture of my dad when he was ten years old. The resemblance stunned me. I picked up the picture and studied it.
My mom glared at Grandma and entered the room. She hugged me and said, "That's your dad when he was...ten?, I guess...You look a lot like him." That easily earned 'understatement of the year' status. My shaky hands put the picture back on the table. I looked around the room again. No TV or radio, no electronic devices at all. No books of any kind. I walked to the closet and opened it. Except for a surfeit of wire hangers, nothing in there at all. I knew enough to not complain, as much as I wanted to. Instead, I, as casually as I could muster, asked, "May I go outside?'
"Of course you may, sweetheart," Grandma answered, oddly enough still standing in the doorway. "Just don't go past the fence on one side of the yard or past the railroad tracks on the other side. ESPECIALLY don't go past the railroad tracks. They don't like it when you go over there."
My young mind reeled with confusion. I distinctly remembered my mom saying she lived all alone 'in the middle of nowhere', with no neighbors for miles. However, the stifling atmosphere--both literal and psychological--made me run out of the room and out the front door. As I bounded down the porch steps I heard two voices simultaneously shouting "DON'T RUN IN THE HOUSE!"
The first thing I did was veer left. I saw the fence a good distance away. Grandma should have known her warning was like an engraved invitation to a curious little boy. I quickly ran to the tall wire fence. On the other side...nothing to pique my interest. Just a thick copse, with no visible trails in it. My mom had instilled a fear of snakes into me, and that little forest looked like it could be hiding hundreds of them. I turned around and ran--a little slower this time as I was already getting winded--towards the other side and the railroad track boundary. By the time I got there, I was merely walking.
The tracks were slightly elevated. The silence was, as the saying goes, deafening, and downright surreal. My instinct told me to turn back and get in the house. My curiosity easily overruled my instinct, saying "hey, you're already here, and you KNOW you want to see what's on the other side of the tracks!"
I stood on the tracks and looked around. There were no visible houses or trailers, just more trees, mostly. As I was about to turn around and go back to the house, I saw it.
A small clearing.
Pretty far away.
I had nothing better to do.
As I approached the clearing, I noticed a stench. It smelled somewhat like a skunk, but not exactly. I have never smelled anything like it before or since. The odor got worse as I got closer to the clearing, but once I entered the clearing, it wasn't quite as bad.
About half as large as a football field, this field was full of splintered wood pieces--like from a fence or outhouse--and large, inexplicable, deep holes. At regular intervals, rounded stones rose from the ground at various angles. My boyish mind had not yet registered that I was in a graveyard. One that had been shamelessly and violently vandalized for some reason.
Shortly before I reached the end of the clearing, I saw it. A large rounded stone with a cross on top. And my dad's picture in the middle of the cross. I read the stone with his birth and death dates, and the caption GONE TOO SOON. This appeared to be the only grave to have not been disturbed.
I sat down. Sadness overwhelmed me, even though I had never known him--or perhaps BECAUSE I had never known him? After a good long cry, I looked around me. There were several small stones and sea shells within reaching distance. For some reason, I wanted to give my father something. So I arranged some stones and shells into a vague what I intended to be a heart shape, but actually ended up looking more like a five pointed star.
Suddenly, I realized that I had been in this cemetery quite a while. If my mom and Grandma weren't already looking for me, they soon would be. I started to run, then remembered the deep holes. After I navigated my way around those, and out of the clearing, I ran as fast as I could.
When I got back to the house, I could hear a loud and heated argument. I intentionally stomped up the steps, and slammed the door closed after I came back into the house.
The argument stopped.
"It's that late already?," I heard my mom ask with alarm.
I heard something slam down on the kitchen table. "Here's the keys. Don't you DARE ask me for anything ever again!"
Mom came up to me and asked, "What have you been doing all this time?"
I had no idea how to answer that question. Finally, I managed to utter, "Just playin'."
Grandma looked at me and said, "He's been across the tracks." My eyes widened.
"Did you, Tyler? Did you go where Grandma told you not to go?"
Before I could answer, Grandma said, "It's too late. Nothing can stop what will happen now."
Supper was a quiet, insufferable affair. After eating, I went straight to my room and fell asleep immediately. Thus began the longest night of my life.
When exactly it began, I can't be sure.
First, I noticed the smell. The same smell as near and in the graveyard, only much worse.
Then came the whining and growling. Liked a scared dog who has been abandoned by his master. Except the sound was far more HUMAN-like than canine, but at the same time clearly not human at all. This continued for a long time. I lay frozen in my bed.
BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM
I could tell this sound was coming from RIGHT UNDERNEATH MY WINDOW.
BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM
I don't remember exactly how many times this happened, but it was ALWAYS five 'BOOMS'.
At some point, I recall Grandma shouting, "DO NOT MOVE! Whatever you do, DO NOT MOVE!"
I followed this sound advice for a long time, but my pesky curiosity finally got the better of me. After what turned out to be the last BOOM, I quickly turned around and looked out the window.
All I saw was a pair of extraordinarily large yellow eyes.
I involuntarily leaped backwards off the bed and landed with a loud crash on the floor. I stayed there in that exact position until sunrise.
After I landed on the floor, I heard what I can only describe as an agonized groan. The odor gradually subsided and was gone completely by sunrise. Just as the smell was gone, my greatest desire was to be gone from there as well.
My mom had the same idea. She picked me up and carried me to a car I had never seen before. She unlocked the doors with some sort of magic device (so it seemed to me) and put me in the back seat. Mom quickly ran up the stairs, and shouted, "Thanks for everything! We have to go now! See you soon!"
I never saw Grandma Augusta again.
As Mom adjusted the car seat and mirrors to her liking, I looked up at the window to my bedroom. It was a good eight feet off the ground.
Right as she started the car, I saw a pattern on the ground under my window made of assorted rocks and shells.
A heart that looked more like a five pointed star.
© 2020 Gary Newsom