- Ghost Writer
- Indian Rock — The Truth Behind the Legend
- The Awakening
- The Lost Diary of Eli McCabe
- Ghost Train
Indian Rock — The Truth Behind the Legend
Indian Rock — The Truth Behind the Legend
On a high bluff outside of Darlington, Pa., just inside State Game Land 285 along the North Country Trail, you’ll find Indian Rock. This large chunk of granite is a popular attraction to hikers because of the strange carving on it that some say resembles a face.
Some believe Indian Rock was carved by an old farmer who did it to create a birdbath on his property. Others claim it’s just a piece of natural art carved by Native Americans who used to inhabit this area.
The truth is that Indian Rock was, in fact, carved by early peoples who inhabited the area; however, it wasn’t done simply for artistic purposes. The carving was created to honor another inhabitant of these thick, foreboding woodlands—one who the natives both revered and feared.
The Iroquois called them the Geno’sgwa, aka the “Stone Giants.” The Lenni Lenape, aka, the Delaware, referred to them as the Mesingw, “The Mask Beings” or the “Misinghalikun, “Living Solid Faces.” Whatever you call them, they were a race of giant, hairy, manlike creatures said to have haunted these woods for centuries (and, according to some, still do). Because of the dark, grayish hair that covered their bodies, the natives believed these creatures were born directly out of the local stone, hence the names.
To the native peoples, the “Stone Giants” weren’t just creatures of the forest, they were spirit beings who possessed magical abilities. This was their land, and the natives respected and honored these supernatural beings accordingly.
One of the ways they paid tribute to the hairy men was through the practices of gift-giving and animal sacrifice. This is where Indian Rock comes in to play. The native peoples carved the face to resemble that of the Geno’sgwa, with two large eyes; a square to represent their broad, flat noses; and a circular mouth to represent the creature doing it’s telltale howl or call. Here on the rock, the natives would leave regular gifts of fruits and vegetables. They would also use it as a place to sacrifice small animals, their blood pooling in the impressions of the eyes, nose, and mouth. These offerings were made to honor the creatures and to ensure peace between them and the natives, as they coexisted together in the forest.
Today, although the tribespeople no longer inhabit the area, hikers and local residents still occasionally leave gifts on the rock — apples, peaches, ears of corn, etc. — to show their respect for the “Stone Giants,” who are still spotted from time to time haunting the darkened hollers and quiet, secluded meadows of this wooded and rural landscape. ~
(The preceding is a work of fiction, albeit a wishful one.)
Copyright © 2019 Valentine J. Brkich
It all began when the oil giant came to town to build their new refinery. Soon they were clearing the land, moving mountains, and pretty much just making a big mess of things. Some thought it was a good thing, that it would create new jobs and be a boon to the local economy. Others, though, weren’t so sure, and they were concerned about the effects on the environment and their quaint small town. But the fact was, the oil refinery would bring in Big Money, and Big Money always wins out in the end.
Or, at least that’s how it’s supposed to go.
One day the oil company was doing some blasting to make way for a new road that would be wide enough and strong enough to handle the heavy traffic of the construction vehicles. At first, everything was going as planned. But after one particularly strong blast of TNT, the hillside gave way, causing a massive landslide that slid down the rock face beneath and crashed into the river. When the dust settled, no one could believe what they were seeing. Where the lush, tree-covered hillside used to be, now all that was left was bare sandstone. But it wasn’t just plain rock. It was in the shape of a huge face—the face of some type of ape/man-like creature. It was massive. From top to bottom it was close to 300 feet. And it was an angry face, hostile, with a wide open mouth baring long, sharp fangs.
The oil workers stood in stunned silence as they idled their machines and stared up at the massive carving in the side of the hill. Across the river, hundreds of townspeople gathered along the road, gaping across the river at the huge, menacing face that glared back at them. What was it? How old was it? Who had carved it and why? No one had a clue.
By evening the town was overrun with reporters and television crews. News of the giant stone face had gone worldwide. Archaeologists who felt the formation needed to be studied tried to put a halt to the blasting. But the oil company pressed on. There was just too little time and too much money to be made. That night, after all the cameras went dark and the townspeople were asleep in their beds, over in the darkness across the river the beasts emerged from their ancient place of hiding. Massive, powerful, hair-covered creatures, they were not of this earth. Now, after hundreds of years, they had been awakened from their slumber. And they were hungry.
Not far away the 24-hour work on the oil refinery continued. Crews of men operated huge, beast-like machines, blasting rock and moving the earth under the cover of darkness. Bright lights powered by generators enabled the work to continue without interruption. That is, until the lights suddenly went out. At first the men waited, expecting the lights to come back on at any moment. But after a while they shut off their monstrous machines and climbed down to the cold, hard, dusty ground.
The attack came silent and swift as the shadowy beasts materialized from the darkness. Their huge, glowing eyes and razor-sharp teeth flashed in the moonlight, causing the men to abandon their equipment and run for their lives. Meanwhile the monstrous beasts tore the machines apart with ease, as if they were made of cloth rather than steel. The worksite, which had been humming with noise for months, fell eerily silent. When the dust settled, the ancient beasts returned to their dark, subterranean lair to rest…and to wait.
Following the attack, the workers refused to return to the site, and all attempts to bring in replacements failed. No one dared to get near the giant stone face, knowing the monsters that lay within. ~
Copyright © 2017 Valentine J. Brkich
by Valentine J. Brkich
I don’t like to talk about it much. It took me years before I could even sleep the whole night through. Heck, even now sometimes I wake up from some godawful nightmare in a cold sweat, not sure where I’m at. But I guess I’ll never really forget it completely. I mean, who could ever forget something like that?
We set out early that morning ‘cause we knew we had a ways to go. We wanted to get on the trail as soon as possible, before it got too hot. Of course, when you’re trying to move a group of people like that, it’s never easy. We had to stop so many times for shit we forgot, heck, it was mid-afternoon before we actually got going.
The trailhead sat right smack in the middle of Hoopieville, USA. I never seen such a run-down shantytown in all my life. I didn’t think people still lived like that. The road leading down to the trail was so dry and dusty, it was hard to see where you were going. And the smell…god, the smell was so bad your eyes watered. Smelled like a deer that’s been rotting along the side of the road for days in the hot summer sun. The bugs sure didn’t mind, though. They were more than happy to greet us at the trail.
I remember I was getting my bike ready, you know, checkin’ the tires and the brakes and whatnot, when I noticed this ragged old man sitting on his front porch watching us. For some reason he was waving his hand at us. At first I thought he was just being friendly, so I waved back. But then I realized he was trying to get us to come over.
“Hey Joe,” I said, pointing to the old man. “Let’s go see what this guy wants.”
Joe frowned. “Eh…probably just wants some money or somethin’. Look at his house. The piece of shit doesn’t even have any windows or anything.”
I could see what Joe was talking about. The run-down old shack looked like it could collapse at any minute. Windows were missing, shingles were falling off of the roof, and the gutters had grass and weeds growing from them. It was hard to imagine anyone actually living in such a place. But the old man didn’t seem to mind. Either that or he didn’t care.
So, against our better judgement, we left our bikes with the others and made our way over to the old man. I didn’t realize just how decrepit he was until we got up to the porch. This guy wasn’t old—he was ancient. His entire face was one big wrinkle shaded beneath the brim of his dusty old ball cap. I could barely read it, it was so filthy, but I was able to make out the words “Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad”. The trail we were about to ride was part of this old rail line that had last been used in the 1930s. After years of lying idle, the tracks were finally torn out in the early 1980s. After that it was converted to bike trial as part of the state’s Rails-to-Trails Program.
The old man didn’t say anything at first. He just stared at Joe and me—a broad smile on his wrinkled face as if he was reading our minds. After an uncomfortable moment, I decided to ask him what he wanted. “Can we help you with somethin’? We were just about to head out on the trail. We’re not trespassing are we? We were told this was the trailhead.”
“That there’s the trailhead, alright.” he said, as an eerie smile grew on his face. “But if I were you, I’d just pack up and head back where you come from.”
Joe looked over at me, confused. Who the hell was this guy to tell us to pack up and leave? This was state property.
“Excuse me?” I asked, before Joe could say anything.
“You heard me. I said if I were you, I’d just turn around and go home. You’re not wanted here.”
This time Joe jumped in before I could respond. “Were not wanted here?” he said. “Well who the hell asked you? If you ask me, it’s none of your goddamn business!” The old man wasn’t moved. He just continued to grin and stare back at us from his rickety old chair. “Com’on, Mike,” said Joe. “Let’s get goin’. Were burnin’ daylight talking to this old fart.”
I didn’t know what to say, both confused and annoyed by the old man’s words. I just figured he was old and bitter. Joe and I just decided to let him be as we turned back toward the trail.
Lance was waiting for us back with the others. “Hey,” he said, “what’d that guy want?”
“Aw, nothing,” I replied. “He’s just crazy or somethin’.”
“He’s just pissed because he lives in a piece of shit excuse for a house!” Joe yelled out. But the old man didn’t seem to hear, or care.
“Leave him alone, Joe!” Joe’s wife, Natalie, didn’t care for his comments. “You wait till you’re old. You’ll be just as mean and ornery as him.”
There were nine of us altogether: me and my wife, Marie; Joe and Natalie; my friends Lance and Nate; Joe’s friends Amy and Nancy; and last—but certainly not least—Joe’s little brother John. There was nothing “little” about John, however. He may have been the youngest one in our group, but he was also the biggest. Still just a teenager, John was already well over six foot and towered above his older brother. Joe was no slouch himself at 6 foot even. But he even looked miniature in John’s shadow.
After we pissed around for a while checking our bikes and basically just wasting time, we finally started down the trail around mid-afternoon. That’s when we first heard the whistle. Somewhere far off in the distance behind us, the distinctive sound of a train whistle broke the calm of the summer afternoon.
Lance was the first to say something. “What the hell was that?”
“It sounded like a train whistle,” said Marie.
“Yeah…but that’s impossible? This line went out of commission almost fifty years ago. Heck, the rails end right back there in those jaggers.”
Nate jumped in. “Maybe there’s another rail line across the river?”
“Nah,” said Joe. “You know what that was? It was probably just an old steam whistle from a factory or somethin’. The industry around here hasn’t changed since the Depression, you know.”
“Yeah,” replied Lance. “And neither have the houses!” We all laughed.
“Alright,” Joe said. “Let’s hit the trail! We’re burnin’ daylight.”
And with that we were off. I just wish we would’ve listened to that old man. Then none of this would’ve happened.
It was pretty humid that day. Just like most days in late August, I guess. The heat was rising off the trail in waves, and it drew the bugs out in droves. You had to be careful to keep your mouth shut while riding or you’d get a mouthful of mosquitoes. But other than the bugs, for the most part, it was a pretty great day for a ride. The sky was cloudless and blue, and as long as you kept moving, a friendly breeze made you forget all about the late summer heat.
We started out the ride as a group, with all nine of us riding in formation along the old rail-line. But about an hour into our ride we had spread apart a good bit. Lance, Joe, and Nat were way ahead of the group—a couple miles at least. Lance never rode slowly. No matter where we were, every time we went on a ride, Lance would be way ahead of the pack. A veteran long-distance rider, he was always in training for his next race. We tried to tell him to take it easy on this trip since it was just a recreational ride. But he couldn’t be reasoned with. Lance only knew one way to ride—fast and hard. Joe and Nat—on their custom tandem bike—were the only ones able to keep up with him. So before long the three of them were nothing more but a spec in the distance.
I, on the other hand, was in no hurry to kill myself so early in the ride. We had a long trip ahead of us—around a hundred miles or so—and I wasn’t about to use up all my energy at the start. Marie felt just the same, and so we enjoyed ourselves as we steadily pedaled down the old trail.
Not far behind, Nate and Little John were taking their time as well. This being John’s first official ride with the group, Nate wanted to make sure he felt welcome and decided to ride with him for the first few hours. About a mile or so behind them, Nancy and Amy were struggling to keep up, neither of them being experienced riders. This was their very first long-distance ride, and you could tell right away it wasn’t going to be easy for them. They had dropped off from the pack almost immediately and made no attempt to catch up to the rest of us. I wasn’t worried, however. The trail only went one way so I wasn’t worried about them getting lost. I just figured they’d catch up with us at the first stop.
A couple hours in we had traveled around twenty miles or so. Because of some plans we’d made before we set off, I knew that our first scheduled break was coming up. It was an old train station — the oldest one on the line, actually — and we figured it was a good place to stop and rest a bit. As Marie and I rounded a bend on the trail, we could see the old wooden station about a hundred yards ahead. Joe, Nat, and Lance were already there waiting for us.
“What the hell took you so long?” Lance yelled down the trail, poking fun at us, as was his way.
“Whoever said this was a race, Lance?” I yelled back, as Marie and I slowed to a stop.
Lance slapped me on the back as I got off my bike and reached for my water bottle. “Ah,” he said. “I’m just messin’ with ya!”
“Hey,” said Joe, “where’s everybody else?”
“Nate and John aren’t too far behind us,” said Marie. “I don’t know about the girls though. They were pretty far back.”
“Stupid chicks,” Lance added. He never was one for pleasure riding.
A couple minutes later Nate and John could be seen emerging from a bend in the trail. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself. Nate looked so much smaller than his younger counterpart. John looked a little bit silly himself. His enormous frame just wasn’t meant for bike riding, I guess.
“‘Bout time you guys catch up,” Lance said.
Nate waved him off. “Ah, we’ve got a long ways to go. And I’m not gonna get all tired right at the start. Besides,” he said, “I had to wait for the little guy.” Everyone laughed as John turned red with embarrassment.
“How ‘bout the girls?” Joe asked. “You seen’em at all?”
“Nah,” said Nate. “They’re way back. We lost’em just a couple miles after we started off.”
Suddenly the sound of a distant train whistle echoed down the valley and reached our ears.
“What the hell was that?” I asked.
“Sounds like that same old train whistle we heard when we first started off,” said Lance. “I don’t care what you say, Joe—that wasn’t no damn factory whistle. That was a train!”
“Yeah,” Joe joined in, “that sure did sound like an old steam engine. Maybe it’s one of those excursion trains or something. I heard there was one near here.”
We all just stood there by our bikes and listened quietly. But the whistle didn’t blow again.
About a half hour passed with no sign of the girls, and we started to get nervous that something might of happened, like maybe a flat tire or something.
“I’ll go back and check on’em,” I said.
“No, that’s alright,” Nate jumped in. “Me and John will go. I’m sure it’s nothin’. They probably just stopped to take a break or something.” We all nodded in agreement. “You guys just go ahead and we’ll catch up to you later.” It sounded like a good idea, so we all agreed. Nate and John took off back down the trail as the rest of us continued on. We figured we’d just wait for them at the next resting point.
By 5:30 or so we had reached our second planned stop — the old Greenbrier Tunnel. Nearly six-hundred feet long, it was an awesome sight. The tunnel had been built at the turn of the century, carved out of the mountain through shear muscle. I can’t imagine how it must’ve been excavating all that rock, mostly by hand. Legend had it that five miners actually died during the construction—buried alive when part of the tunnel collapsed without warning.
“Man,” said Lance, “that is so freakin’ awesome.”
I laid my bike down and took off my helmet. “Yeah,” I said, “that is pretty sweet. How the hell did they build that with nothin’ but their bare hands? It’s amazing.”
“Well, what are we gonna do?” Joe asked. “Should wait here for Nate, John and the girls, or should we just press on? After all, we’re burnin’ daylight.” It was his favorite saying.
“I say we just go,” replied Natalie. “They said they’ll catch up with us.”
Lance agreed. “We gotta get camp set up before it gets too dark. They’ll be alright.”
So, we decided to keep riding and get to camp before dusk. One by one we mounted our bikes and headed into the tunnel. I buckled up my helmet and was the last one to go through. But right as I started in, I slammed on the brakes and listened. Way off in the distance I thought I heard someone screaming. That’s when I heard it again—the train whistle. It seemed much farther off this time. But make no mistake about it, I heard it.
For a moment I just sat there and listened. But there was nothing—only the sound of the water rushing by in the river below the trail.
“Hey, Mike!” Joe yelled back through the tunnel. “You comin’ or what?!”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’ll be right there.” I only waited another second or so before heading into the tunnel. By then a cold, eerie feeling had come over me, and I began to wonder if our friends were alright.
Finally, around 8 o’clock or so, we decided to stop. We had gone almost fifty miles in one day, and, as you can imagine, we were all pretty tuckered out. We set up camp just of the trail in a bare spot underneath a canopy of towering trees. Right away Joe and Lance began to build a fire, mainly for protection. In order to conserve space and keep our packs light, all we had brought to eat was instant oatmeal and granola bars. Honestly, after fifty miles of riding I would have rather had a nice chicken dinner, but that just wasn’t possible. Besides, we were in an area thick with black bear. It wouldn’t be too smart to have any real food around that might draw them in.
Camp was set up in no time at all, and we turned our attention to our missing friends. It was now pitch dark out and they were nowhere to be found.
Joe was really worried. “Where the hell are those guys? They should have been here by now.”
“Maybe it got too dark for them and they set up camp on their own?” said Lance.
Natalie was far less optimistic. “I’m worried someone got hurt. I don’t think they would have stopped until they caught up with us.”
“Yeah,” said Marie, “maybe they had to go back for help.”
Joe looked deep in thought, probably thinking about his younger brother.
“Think we should go lookin’ for ’em?” I said.
“Are you crazy,” said Lance. “It’s way too dangerous to go ridin’ down the trail at night. You never know what you could run into. These hills are full of bear. Mountain lion, too.”
“Yeah,” said Joe, “you’re probably right. I just hate not knowin’.”
“They’ll be alright,” I said, trying to sound positive. “Nate’s an old woodsmen. He’ll take care of the rest of them. Heck, they’re probably all sittin’ around a fire right now talking about us.”
Joe looked up at me and smiled. “I hope you’re right.”
A full moon lit up the night sky as we called it a day and climbed into our tents. All we could do was hope that Nate, John, and the girls were somewhere safe.
The next morning we woke to find our camp in shambles. Our bikes hadn’t been touched, but all of our gear lay strewn across the dirty ground, like someone had been looking for something. What a mess. All of our stuff was ripped apart and covered with dirt. The only bit of food we could salvage were a couple of lousy granola bars. The rest of the bars and the oatmeal were nowhere to be found.
I was stunned. “What the hell happened here last night?”
“Bear,” said Joe, matter-of-factly. “Black bear. Must’ve come out of the hills in search of food.”
Marie grabbed my arm and looked around as if she expected a bear to be right behind her.
“Ah, don’t worry, hun,” I said. “They’re long gone now.” At least that’s what I hoped. “They’re more afraid of us than we are of them.”
She nodded her head but wouldn’t let go of my arm.
“This sucks,” said Lance. “How the hell are we gonna ride another fifty miles on an empty stomach?”
“Well,” said Natalie, “we still have a couple of granola bars left. And maybe they’ll be some berries or something out on the trail?”
Lance wasn’t satisfied. “Eh, a lot good a couple of shitty granola bars are gonna do for us.” I hate to admit it, but I agreed with him. My stomach was already growling and we hadn’t even started to ride yet. Suddenly it hit me. “Hey,” I said, “what about Nate, John and the girls? I bet you they still have some food. Once they catch up with us, we’ll just ration out what we’ve got left.” Everyone seemed in agreement. So we decided to just sit and wait a while to see if the others showed up. As the sun slowly crept over the horizon, we got a fire going and started to clean up.
But by nine o’clock, there was still no sign of them. And Lance was sick of waiting. “This is stupid,” he said. “I’m goin’ back to look for ’em.”
Joe didn’t seem to think it was the best idea. “I don’t know, man. We’ve already got separated from those guys. I don’t wanna lose you too.”
“You kiddin’?” said Lance. “I’m not gonna get lost. It’s a freakin’ railroad bed, for godsake. How the hell can you get lost? I’m just gonna ride back and see what’s keepin ’em. We can’t wait here all day, you know.”
“Yeah,” Joe replied, “you’re probably right. The rest of us will pack up and get goin’. We’ll just take it easy, and then you can catch up to us after you meet up with the others. Sound good?”
And with that Lance was off. He was our best and fastest rider by far. Surely, he would find the others, and in no time they’d catch up with the rest of us. Heck, they were probably just down the trail a bit. We’d be all together again by the afternoon.
At least, that’s what we thought.
Just before noon, Joe, Natalie, Marie, and I had reached the old Skeezer Tunnel, about twenty miles farther down the trail. Just like the old Greenbrier Tunnel, the Skeezer had been carved over a hundred years before. But the it was much bigger, and much more ominous. It was massive—large enough to drive two trains through side by side. It had been carved out of solid rock way before the track had actually been laid, back when the railroad was supposed to be a double track. But the workers soon found out that the landscape was just too treacherous and could only support a single line. Apparently, this had angered some of the tunnel workers who had worked their asses off in the excavation. Some of ’em actually were killed during the construction.
Well, some of the workers staged a strike and things got real ugly. When the railroad tried to break up the strike, a riot broke out and eighteen men got killed. Legend had it that those men still haunted the tunnel, swearing vengeance upon anyone who dared enter it.
I knew it was just a silly ghost story, but it still made me a little uneasy. There’d been a couple mysterious train wrecks right around and inside the tunnel over the years. The investigators determined them all to be just run-of-the-mill derailments, but it was agreed upon by some that the ghosts of the tunnel workers had caused them. I don’t know if this was true or not, but as we sat at the entrance of the long, dark passageway, I couldn’t help but feel a little uneasy.
Marie could tell I was worried. “What’s wrong, Mike? You okay?”
“Oh, I’m okay,” I laughed. “Just…daydreamin’ I guess.” I took a deep breath and turned to Joe who was taking a drink of water. “Hey, Joe, what do you think happened to Lance? He should’ve found them and caught up to us by now, don’t you think?”
Joe took another swallow from his canteen and wiped his mouth. “Yeah, I would’ve thought they’d have been here by now. Maybe they…”
And there it was again. Way off in the distance—that eerie train whistle blew again and echoed down the valley. Only this time, it was followed by a blood-curdling scream.
“Oh my God!” Natalie gasped. “What was that?” But no one answered her. We all sat frozen like statues, trying to make sense of what we had just heard. Marie stood beside me, her hand clamped over her mouth in fear. A cold chill ran up my spine. There was no mistaking it. We had all heard the whistle and that terrible scream.
“That scream…” I paused, “it sounded like…”
“Like someone being killed,” said Joe. For the first time ever, I saw fear in his eyes. “I’ve never heard anything like that in my life. I gotta go see who it was.”
“No!” said Natalie. “You’re not leaving me!”
“I have to, Nat. I hate to say it but, I think that sounded like…like Lance!”
“You’re right,” I said. “And if that really was him, he’s definitely in trouble. We gotta go check it out!” Natalie and Marie grabbed us and begged us not to go. But we had to. We had to go help our friends.
“Oh, God!” Natalie screamed as she pointed down the trail. I turned to look and there he was—Lance. He was crawling down the trail on his hands and knees. It was a sight I’ll never forget. He was bloody from head to toe. His clothes were all torn, like he’d been attacked by some wild animal.
As Joe and I ran towards him, Lance collapsed on the trail and lay motionless.
I reached him and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. “Must’ve been a bear or a mountain lion,” I said. “What else could do something like this to a man? He was all torn up and blood was everywhere. And it was clear his left leg was broken. The jagged bone had punched through the skin. I turned my head and puked all over the trail. It was just too much to take.
“Lance!” said Joe. “Lance…talk to me! What happened to you? Where are the others?”
Lance strained to raise his head. His face was all cut up and bleeding. Struggling to breathe, he could barely speak. “Joe…the train…I couldn’t…I couldn’t move it…”
“Train?” I said, turning to Joe. “What the hell is he talkin’ about?” Joe didn’t answer me. “Lance—what train? What are you talkin’ about?”
“They’re dead,” he said. “They’re all…dead. The train…Joe…the train…it’s coming….” And with that he went unconscious. He didn’t say another word.
“What the hell is he talkin’ about, Joe? What train? Who’s dead? Nate and John? It can’t be…”
Joe stared down the trail. “I don’t know,” he said. “I just…don’t know. It can’t be…they can’t be…” He just kept staring down the trail as he held Lance’s bloody head in his arms.
Marie and Natalie ran up to us. “We gotta get him to help!” said Marie.
Natalie winced as she looked down at Lance. “My God…what happened to him?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “He was mumbling about a train or somethin’?” That’s when we heard it—that horrible sound. It was like a nightmare. Something out of a dream. The train whistle—the same one we’d been hearing all along. But this time it was much, much closer. It was right on us. It came out of nowhere and was louder than anything I had ever heard. I covered my ears and fell to my knees. Marie and Natalie did the same. Joe let go of Lance and tried to get back up. But the sound was so loud and powerful, it just seemed to knock him right back down.
Then we saw it. I never would’ve believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. Just down the trail where it bent around a towering cliff, a giant, black shape came blasting around the bend. At first I didn’t know what it was. The whistle was still blaring and I could hardly open my eyes. But then I saw it. Saw it clear as day. It was a locomotive! One of those old steam engines, like the ones you see in books or Westerns. The iron monster belched a cloud of black smoke from its towering stack as it barreled around the bend and charged down the trail—right at us.
Marie screamed. Natalie was still lying on the ground, writhing around in pain from the intensity of the whistle.
“Get up!” I yelled to them. “Get up! Joe! Com’on…get up! We gotta move!”
Joe’s gaze was frozen on the train. “It can’t be?” he said. “It’s…impossible!” He winced as the train’s whistle blasted out again through the air.
Marie grabbed onto me and pulled herself up. The train was coming on fast. “Mike!” she cried. “I can’t move! I…the whistle…it’s…”
“We gotta move!” I said. “It’s comin’ right for us! Let’s go!” The raging river was to our right at the bottom of a jagged slope. To our right the mountain was a sheer wall of rock. Our only hope was to get through the tunnel to the other side.
Joe managed to get up and threw Lance over his shoulder. Natalie followed right behind him. “We gotta get through the tunnel,” Joe said.
Leaving our bikes we darted into the tunnel, Natalie went in first, followed by Joe with Lance over his shoulder. I went next, dragging Marie behind me. I looked back and saw that the train was only a hundred yards away or so—and it was gaining fast!
“I can’t see anything,” Joe yelled over the sound of the steam engine’s roar. “It’s pitch dark in hear!”
“Just head for that light!” I said, referring to the opening on the far end of the tunnel. It seemed miles away as we struggled to make our way through the darkness. The sound of the train grew louder with each step.
“It’s no use,” Joe said. Just then he and Lance fell to the ground, like they were tripped by something.
“Get up!” yelled Natalie. “Joe…get up! The train! It’s coming!” I didn’t need to turn around. The light from the locomotive entered the tunnel and once let out a terrible blast of its whistle. The pain was almost unbearable, but I knew we had to keep going.
“Get up!” I said. “We gotta keep going! We’re almost there!” Joe jumped up and once again threw Lance over his shoulder. With every ounce of strength we had we took off towards the other opening. The train was almost on us now, and the sound was unbearable. It pierced my ears like a knife. But I just kept running.
Finally we reached the other side and burst into the sunlight. The train was right behind us, so close you could feel the heat from its engine. It followed us out of the tunnel, like the fiery breath of some dragon. To our right, it was shear rock. To our left, nothing but a slope of jagged rocks leading to the river below.
“Now what?” Joe said as he gasped for air, still holding Lance over his shoulder. Right then I saw an old rope swing off to the left. It was our only chance.
“There!” I yelled. “The rope! Go for the rope!”
The two girls grabbed onto the rope, took a few steps back, and then swung themselves out over the rocks before dropping into the water. I looked at Joe, and he motioned me to go ahead. So I leapt for the rope, swung out to clear the rocks, and then dropped into the river. Joe struggled to get a grip on the rope with Lance over his shoulder still. Just then the train burst out of the tunnel with a terrible roar. Joe leaned back, jumped up and flew through the air towards the river right as the black locomotive barreled past him. It missed him and Lance by inches as they swung out past the rocks and dropped into the water. The ghostly train then roared down the trail and just disappeared—its black smoke still hanging in the air.
We floated down the river a mile or two to the nearest town. No one said a word as we drifted downstream. When we hit the town, we immediately went to look for help. But it was too late. Lance was gone. He never regained consciousness.
I can’t explain what happened on that hot summer day all those years ago. All I know is it was real. No one believes me, of course. That’s why they’ve got me locked up in this nuthouse to rot away. If my wife was here she’d tell you too. But she’s gone. She lost it not long afterwards—haunted by that godforsaken whistle. It kept her up nights. They said it was dementia, but in the end, I know that’s what really killed her.
They never found John, Nate, and the girls. They’re bikes were found all smashed on the side of the trail. But no trace of ’em was ever found. The state just wrote them off as victims of a bear attack.
I don’t care what anyone says. I know what really happened. All I keep seeing is that old man, laughing there up on his porch, telling us to go home.
If only we’d listened to him. If only.~
Copyright © 2015 Valentine J. Brkich
The Lost Diary of Eli McCabe
The Lost Diary of Eli McCabe
by Valentine J. Brkich
The following pages were taken from the diary of Eli Augustus McCabe (1846-1921). The diary was found inside a time capsule that was recently opened in McCabe’s hometown of Beaver, Pennsylvania. McCabe was a junior majoring in Philosophy at Westminster College (New Wilmington, Pa.) when the war broke out in 1861. He left school to join the 77th PA Volunteers and took part in the Chattanooga Campaign in the autumn of 1863. McCabe returned to school after the war and then read the law in Beaver before passing the bar and practicing there for the remainder of his life.
Although his diary was placed in the time capsule in 1916, five years prior to his death at age 75, McCabe never spoke a word of the story you are about to read, possibly because he was worried about the reaction to it.
The following pages cover a period of 10 days in the late fall of 1863, after the 77th’s participation in the Union Army’s victorious assault on Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, Nov. 24, 1863, under the command of Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker. McCabe and a small group of men had gone in pursuit of some fleeing Rebel soldiers when, after taking three prisoners, became disoriented and lost within the thick, mountainous terrain. What happened to them over the next seven days is both disturbing and unexplainable; it has never been made public until the recent unearthing of McCabe’s diary.
There is no way to prove that McCabe’s story is true; however, there is no way to disprove it, either, since the following is the only surviving record of it. We will let the reader decide for him- or herself.
November 24, 1863
I write this in the early morning, the light from the fire illuminating the pages in the stark darkness of this moonless autumn sky. It has been a long day, but a blessed one just the same, as we pushed the Rebels from the heights of Lookout Mountain, which they had wrongly believed to be impregnable. Yet no mountain, no matter how tall, shall prevent us from doing the Lord’s will and bringing the end to the actions of this traitorous southern confederacy.
The others in my group — John, William, Silas, Richard, and Matthew — are all getting some much needed rest while I keep watch on our Rebel prisoners—two boys from North Carolina and a Cherokee. They gave us a good chase through this thick Tennessee wilderness, but alas, in the end they surrendered due to exhaustion and, most likely, to save themselves from inevitable doom. The boys don’t worry me much. They are young, and whatever inner fire brought them into this fight is all but extinguished. But the Indian is another story. He is quiet. Too quiet. He has yet to fall asleep, and I can’t help but think he’s contemplating his escape. He seems almost fearful and keeps looking out into the darkness, possibly in the hopes of a rescue party. But rest assured, no such salvation awaits him, for the enemy is already in full retreat and will soon enough succumb to the superior force of this Army of the Cumberland.
The darkness tonight is stifling and like none I’ve experienced before. Even the wild creatures that most certainly haunt this oppressive wood seem to have fled or remain hidden within their secret havens on this eerily black and quiet November’s eve. Tomorrow it will be good to leave this forsaken wilderness and reunite with the Army as we push onward to crush this rebellion once and for all.
November 25, 1863
No trouble with the prisoners last night. I was thankful to get a few hours of sleep after Matthew took over my watch. John and Silas went out at first light this morning to see if they could get a fix on our position. There’s a sizable ridge just west of our camp, so they headed off that way to climb it and see if they could locate the battalion. Meanwhile the rest of us have been making breakfast, tending to camp and keeping our eyes on the prisoners. The two boys from North Carolina don’t say much of anything, but they sure can eat. By the looks of them, I’d say they haven’t had much of anything to eat for quite some time. The Cherokee stayed awake all night and did not relax until sun up. After that he fell right asleep. He hasn’t made a peep, neither. Not that I care if he speaks at all. I’ll just be happy to be free of all three of them once we get back to our regiment.
It’s just around mid-afternoon now and still no sign of John or Silas. Matthew thinks we should send someone to go off and see if we can locate them. Perhaps they are lost or hurt. However, the rest of us agree that it’s best to just stay put for now. They’re bound to turn up soon. No use in risking anymore of us getting lost in this infernal wilderness. And there may be still a few Rebel stragglers about, waiting in ambush. It’s too risky as long as we have these prisoners to look after. My guess is that John and Silas simply decided to do a little exploring. They’ve always been the adventurous type, and such is their way.
The sun has gone behind the hills now, and it won’t be long til dark, yet John and Silas still have not returned to camp. Something must have happened. Something bad. I’m sure of it, as are the rest of the men. Silas has always been a little irresponsible. But John, well, you can always count on John. He may only be a private, but in the short time he’s been with our company, he has proven himself a leader. When the lead is flying, you know John is gonna stick by you and give those Rebs hell. My assumption is they got picked up by one of the Reb cavalry units roaming around and harassing the main Army. There’s just no way they’d get lost. Not them two country boys.
Anyhow, I discussed it with the rest of the men, and we’ve decided to stay put for one more night and then head out at first light. The way we figure it, if we head due east we should be able to pick up the tracks of our regiment and then catch up to them in a day or two at most. I don’t like the idea of leaving Silas and John behind, but we can’t afford to fall too far back from the main body of the Army. Not while we’re in enemy territory, especially with the extra baggage we’ve picked up.
Speaking of which, the Cherokee finally woke up a little bit ago. Slept most of the day. Since then he and the Carolina boys have been whispering about something. I don’t trust any of them, but we got them tied up nice and tight, so I’m not too worried about it. It’s strange, though. Whatever they’re talking about has got them all looking scared as can be. Good. If they’re scared of us, hopefully they’ll behave until we can catch up with the others.
November 26, 1863
It’s been a long night. The sun has just come up over the horizon, but not one of us I dare say had a moment’s rest. Not even the prisoners.
It all began right around midnight when I was awakened by a deep, guttural growl not far from our camp, the likes of which I have never heard before. The sound aroused Matthew from his slumber as well. When I asked if he thought it might be a bear, he said he was confident it wasn’t. Maybe a mountain lion, he said, although it sounded much larger than any other wild cat he’d ever come across in his many years out in the wilderness.
Then we heard the beast crashing through the undergrowth, and I tell you I would not have been surprised if an elephant had emerged from the wood, the noise was so great. The sound woke the rest of the men from their slumber, including the boys and the Indian. Richard asked them what they thought it might be, but the three of them didn’t speak a word. They just looked at each other as if they were keeping some secret from us.
The woods grew eerily silent after that. Even the crickets ceased their incessant chirping. After almost an hour had passed, we believed the beast to be gone. But then another growl arose from the blackness of the forest, and we knew it was still somewhere nearby. By this time we were all at full alert, our weapons loaded, ready to ward off any sudden attack, which we were certain was imminent. Meanwhile, the two young Rebs looked terrified. The Cherokee, too, appeared apprehensive, but there was something within his countenance that told me he knew what was out there in the darkness. So I approached him and told him that I believed he knew the source of the inhuman growls and demanded that he break his silence. The Indian looked back at me sternly, and after a few moments said in broken English that it was the Kecleh-Kudleh, the Hairy Savage. I had never heard of such a beast, and I asked him to describe it. But the Cherokee, whose name I discovered was Waya, meaning Wolf, said that this Kecleh-Kudleh was some type of spirit—half-man, half-beast. He said all the Cherokee know if it. They fear and respect it, for in the wilderness it has no rival. Even the mighty bear and panther give way in its presence.
I stood silent for some time looking into Waya’s eyes as I considered his story. Both Matthew and Richard, however, scoffed at this explanation, dismissing it as foolish Indian folklore. William, though, was not so quick to pass judgement. He said that he too had heard tales of hairy men of the forest, giant men with incredible strength who haunted the woods back near his homestead in northern Pennsylvania. He said his grandfather claimed to have come face to face with such a beast while hunting elk, and afterward never again ventured into the forest alone.
Just as Matthew began to ridicule William for believing his grandfather’s ghost story, a roar erupted from within the surrounding wood, and this time it seemed to be coming from all sides. The four of us moved closer to the fire, our weapons cocked and ready. But nothing came. Meanwhile the two boys pleaded with us to untie them so that they could defend themselves. We denied their request but helped them move closer to the safety of the fire. Waya, however, remained where he was. No weapon or fire, he said, could protect us from the great spirit Kecleh-Kudleh.
Almost three hours have passed now, and there have been no further growls or other sounds from the surrounding woods. Hopefully whatever creature or creatures made them have moved on. There have been no more signs of the mysterious beasts since that dreadful moment when after hearing, and feeling, the thunderous roar, we were all certain that attack was imminent. The four of us discussed our situation and have decided we have no other choice but to make haste and leave this place at once, lest we get too far removed from the rest of the Army. Silas and John’s fate is still unknown, but we can only hope they are alive and well somewhere, even if they have fallen into Rebel hands. However, now I worry that perhaps they crossed paths with whatever beast is lurking out there in this foreboding wilderness.
Matthew has volunteered to go ahead alone and scout out a route for our departure. William offered to join him, being that there is safety in numbers, and in light of our mysterious and frightening encounter last night. But Matthew declined, he being the bravest of our group and the most accomplished woodsman in our entire regiment. He feels he can move more swiftly and safely alone. In the meantime the rest of us will tear down our camp and prepare to move out upon Matthew’s return.
Midday is almost upon us and still no sign of Matthew. It is not like him to stray from his word, and he assured us he would be gone no more than an hour. Now the situation has become quite worrisome, as three of our best men have disappeared without a trace. Fortunately there has been no further sign of the creatures. Yet, I cannot help but feel like we are being watched. I keep peering out into the thick underbrush fully expecting to see someone or something looking back at me. But possibly I have let my imagination get the best of me.
Richard, William and I had a lengthy discussion about our predicament, and we have decided it is imperative that we head out with all due haste, despite the fact that Matthew has yet to return. We can no longer afford to wait. Our supplies are running low, and the rest of the Army has almost certainly moved on by now. Furthermore, none of us believes it a good idea to remain in our current location and risk another encounter with the beasts from last night. We can only hope we do not encounter them again after leaving this place.
It is now near midnight, and I have drawn first watch. The rest of the men are asleep. We made good progress east toward what we believe is the direction of our regiment. However, there is no way to know for sure. Luckily there was a full moon overhead to light our way through this foreign territory. I am confident that tomorrow we will be united with the rest of our men. I only hope that Matthew, Silas, and John have somehow found their way back into friendly hands.
It is a tranquil, quiet night here in our new camp. Yet I cannot help but wonder what lurks out within the darkness around me. Hopefully we have put some distance between ourselves and our mysterious visitors. But as long as we are in this foreign land, I will not feel completely at ease.
One of the Carolina boys is calling to me…
Richard just took over on watch, but I am having trouble falling asleep. I had a long conversation with one of the Carolina boys, whose name I learned is Samuel. Before the war he lived a quiet life on his father’s tobacco farm. He and his brother Robert, our other prisoner, enlisted shortly after the outbreak of hostilities hoping to find adventure, something they lacked in their everyday lives. But like most men in this war, I believe Samuel and Robert have gotten more than they ever bargained for.
He seems to be a fine boy, Samuel. It is unfortunate that fate has placed him on the wrong side of this bloody affair.
November 27, 1863
Richard is gone! When I saw him last, just after he took over watch, I saw nothing within his countenance that would have suggested he was about to abandon us. Yet, when I awoke this morning, there was no sign of him. I cannot imagine what would have inspired him to take leave of us now, especially when we are in enemy land and so close to rejoining our regiment. Neither William nor the prisoners heard anything last night to arouse them from their slumber. If some wild beast would have come into camp, surely one of us would have heard something, and Richard would have most likely fired his weapon. He is not one to be easily surprised and taken without a fight. His disappearance is most disturbing, especially since it is now up to just myself and William to watch after the prisoners and find our way back to the army.
More disturbing news. As we were packing and preparing to move out, William came across Richard’s Spencer carbine in the underbrush not twenty paces from camp, and the weapon had somehow been broken in two. Who or what has the strength to break solid iron? We also discovered what we believe is one of Richard’s brogans along with what appears to be a faint trail of blood, although we cannot be sure.
Everyone is perplexed by the situation, save for Waya, who is most certain that Richard — and most likely Matthew, Silas, and John — has been taken by the one he calls Kecleh-Kudleh, the so-called hairy man of Cherokee legend. But there must be some other more rational explanation. What, I do not know.
I presume it is now close to midnight. It has been a trying day, to say the least. This is the first chance I have had to write. Where do I begin?
We moved out just after noon. William and I both agreed that, considering the evidence, Richard had not deserted us but rather had fallen victim to some bloodthirsty creature stalking these godforsaken woods. Therefore, there was no reason for us to delay a minute longer, and we continued our journey toward the south west.
About an hour later, I began to have that feeling again as if we were being watched. William too felt ill at ease and feared that we were walking straight into a Rebel ambush. It was then that the first rock flew into our group, just barely missing the Carolina brother Robert. At first we thought little of it, but then another stone struck William in his side, and we knew it could be no coincidence. We immediately took cover in the underbrush thinking attack was imminent. But, alas, none came. We did hear movement on either side, though, as well as some distinctly animal grunts. William and I were perplexed. Once again the Cherokee insisted that it was the great Kecleh-Kudleh. I still was unsure, however, having seen no sign of any large beast within the thick foliage. We held our position and had our arms at the ready.
For the rest of the day we heard nothing. That is, until sundown, when the hellish growls began once again. Then we knew the beasts had returned and that we were surrounded. It has been two hours hence, and William and I are still on guard and expecting the worst at any moment.
It has been quiet for some time now. As I sit here writing in the light of the full moon, William and the prisoners are finally getting something to eat, sharing the last of our rations—a few pieces of salt pork and some hardtack. I have no appetite, however, and am enjoying the last of my cigars while I try to make sense of the past few days.
Could we truly be the prey of some monstrous, savage man-beast as the Cherokee claims? Or have we allowed our imaginations to get the best of us with the mysterious disappearance of our comrades? I tend to lean toward the latter of these explanations. Still, it is impossible to deny that we are being stalked — hunted, if you will — by some wild creature or creatures whose identity remains a mystery.
William approached me just a few moments ago and suggested it might be in our best interest to release the prisoners and continue on alone. I told him I agreed, seeing that it will allow us to move more swiftly as we continue eastward to reunite with our Union brethren. We are out of rations and can no longer provide for them. I do not think they will be any threat to us, unarmed as they are. And I would think they would be more intent on finding a way out of this wilderness and safe from our beastly pursuers. We will not leave them completely defenseless, however, and will permit them to take their knives for protection. At first light, we will direct them to go westward and then, after a sufficient amount of time, we will continue on our way, alone.
November 28, 1863
Just before dawn we approached our Rebel prisoners and informed them of our plans to set them free. We believed they would be quite pleased with this news, however, their reaction was quite the opposite, at least with the two brothers, Samuel and Robert. After contemplating our plan to give them their freedom, the elder brother approached William and me and declared that they would prefer to remain with us. It was clear that they did not feel safe venturing out on their own as long as those strange beasts were still roaming the woods.
During this time the Cherokee Waya did not say a word and his expression did not betray whatever emotion he was feeling regarding our plans to free him or the brothers’ decision to remain as our prisoners. When I asked him to share his thoughts, he told me that it didn’t matter either way. He appeared stoic and resigned as he continued to gaze out into the surrounding woods. Very strange indeed.
In light of our situation, we have decided to free the men of their bonds regardless of their choice to remain in our group. I do not believe at this point that they will be a danger to us, and we will be able to move at a quicker pace with the three of them untethered. Furthermore, we may need their assistance should the mysterious beasts return and choose to attack.
The sun is just barely over the horizon now, and we are moving out. May God be with us on this day.
It is now just an hour or two past noon and we believe we have reached the spot where our regiment was stationed just before the battle. There is no sign of the army here, however, and we are uncertain in which direction they have gone. We have decided to stop here and rest a bit before moving on. William and the boys went off in search of water and something to eat. I am here alone with the Cherokee. He hasn’t said a word to anyone since we left this morning, and seems to be praying silently, to what god I do not know. A stranger person I have never met. He seems at the same time perfectly at ease yet certain that we are the helpless prey of this man-beast of Indian lore. He is a most curious individual. I am inclined to inquire as to why and how he came to be involved in this bloody war, particularly on the side of the traitorous Secessionists. Yet I cannot get myself to approach him. It is not fear that holds me back, but rather something I cannot explain. I feel it is best to leave him be and instead concentrate on getting us out of these woods and reunited with our Union brethren.
We have had yet another setback. William lost his footing when he was out searching for food, and it appears he has broken his leg. Fortunately Samuel and Robert were with him and able to set a splint and carry him back to us. Right now the brothers are busy building a makeshift sled on which we hope to pull William as we continue our search for any friendly troops. If need be we will set up camp here for the night, however I am hoping to put a few more miles behind us before sundown. I would also like to move to higher ground, where I feel we will be safer and where we might be able to spot a distant campfire that might point us in the right direction. It is now solely up to me to get us out of this dire situation, and it is not something I relish in the least.
The sled is finished, thanks to the skills of the North Carolina boys. It took longer than we had hoped, though, and with the sun sinking toward the horizon, the consensus of the group is that we set up camp for the night. It would be too difficult and dangerous to attempt to move William across this darkened landscape. We managed to find a more defensible position on a ledge about halfway up the nearest hill, and I am hoping once darkness falls we might be able to spot the light from the distant campfires of the main body of the Army.
Waya still continues his mysterious behavior. He has, however, made himself useful gathering wood as well as what he claims are edible plants. He has also brewed some tea using the roots of one of the plants. I would much rather have some salt pork and coffee, but for now this will have to do. The plan is for me to take first watch. William believes he will be well enough to take the second shift. If something should happen, he will wake me immediately. I pray that we have a quiet night and that no alarm will be necessary.
It is now about halfway to dawn, and I have just turned watch over to William. It will be good to get some rest after this trying day. We did see what we believe to be a few campfires off in the distance. It does not appear to be the main body of our Army, but we think it may be the rear guard—a good sign that the rest of the Army isn’t far off. No signs of those terrible beasts so far. In fact, it is unusually quiet in the woods this night. I cannot lie, I will not miss this godforsaken wilderness in the least. There is something haunting and unsettling about it. I feel as if a thousand eyes are upon me. It is as if the forest itself is a living, breathing animal watching our every move.
That is all for now. I must get some rest for what I hope will be the final leg of our journey.
November 29, 1863
Kecleh-Kudleh is real. I would not have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes. I had not been asleep long before the sound of gunfire awakened me. I looked over at William just as one of the creatures overtook him, wresting his weapon from his hands and breaking it in two like a twig. Poor William fought courageously, but he was no match for the giant hairy beast, which snapped the poor boy’s neck before tossing him aside. The monster was terrifying—a huge, man-like creatre, with long, black hair covering every inch of his massive frame. I raised my weapon at the monster, but the gun misfired. As I struggled to reload it, out of the corner of my eye I saw another one of the great man-beasts attack young Samuel, knocking him unconscious. Robert tried in vain to save his brother, but the creature was too powerful. With one hand he grabbed and tossed Robert into a nearby oak. I raised my weapon and took aim at one of the monsters but held my fire as Waya flew at him, brandishing his long hunting knife. The Indian managed to thrust his blade into one of the beast’s arms before it grabbed him with the other and tossed him aside with ease. At this moment the other creature rushed me, but I was able to get off a shot which struck it in the left shoulder. Both of them seemed stunned by the blast from my weapon and turned to retreat back within the cover of the forest, but not before one of them grabbed hold of Samuel’s leg and dragged him off into the darkness.
It has been an hour hence, and there has been no further sign of the hairy beasts. Robert is alive, albeit barely. Waya was stunned by his encounter with the Kecleh-Kudleh, but he seems to be otherwise unharmed. Presently he is tending to Robert and doing what he can to make the poor boy comfortable. Dawn is still a ways off, and I am fearful the beasts will return. I am no longer concerned with keeping the Cherokee prisoner and have given him my sidearm to use should we face another attack. Though, I am not sure if it will do any good.
The beasts are near. It is still dark, and we cannot see very far into the woods, but we have heard movement in the underbrush, along with other strange, unidentifiable groans and haunting sounds. Waya and I are both loaded and at the ready. Robert is gone, having succumbed to his wounds not too long ago. I pray we will not be next.
Waya is no more. It happened just before dawn, an hour or so ago. We were holed up in a small crevice waiting out the night when we heard what sounded like cries for help. Then, not twenty paces or so from our position, Samuel emerged from the woods crawling across the ground and moaning in pain. Waya did not hesitate and went immediately to the aid of his Rebel colleague. That is when the big one emerged from the darkened forest and with one powerful blow knocked the Cherokee to the ground where he lay motionless. Then another of the beasts emerged from hiding, approached poor Samuel, and stomped on him with such force it most certainly extinguished whatever life was left in him. The two monsters then picked up their now lifeless prey and vanished once again into the darkness. I am only writing this now because I am certain that they will soon be back for me, and I want to be certain that my fate is known.
To my dearest Rebecca, I have and always will love you. Please remember me.
December 2, 1863
Mount Pleasant Hospital, Washington, D.C.
Two days have passed since my last entry. I am grateful to be alive and in relative comfort. I still cannot believe I made it out of the Tennessee wilderness alive. It is truly a miracle made possible by our Good Lord and Savior.
As I sat in that crevice awaiting the return of those evil man-beasts, I could hear sounds in the darkness. My senses told me that the creatures were close by and about to make their final attack. In that moment I prayed to the Lord that he would take me quickly and with as little pain as possible. Just then one of the beasts emerged from the darkness, his huge, red eyes shining like a demon’s. He let out a terrible growl and began to move toward me.
But then there was a thunderous sound off to the left, and it caused the creature to stop where he was. The sound gradually grew louder and I realized that it came not from thunder but rather the hooves of horses. The man-beast didn’t wait to see what it was. Instead he turned to me, let out one last, terrible roar and then, like a specter, faded into the darkness of the forest. A moment later the horsemen appeared from around the side of the hill, and I came out of my hiding to flag them down. I had been saved.
I know not what manner of beast it was that hunted me and my men in that lonely southern wilderness. But I know it was not like any creature I have ever seen before. I have never seen any creature — man or beast — with such power and that could move so swiftly through the thick wooded landscape. Maybe that’s why Waya believed it to be some type of supernatural being not of this earth.
I have not told a soul the truth about what happened out there in the Tennessee wilderness. I only told my rescuers that we had gotten lost pursuing some Rebels and later became disoriented for lack of water. As for poor Silas, John, Matthew, Richard, and William, I will take it upon myself to write their families. Only, I will say that they lost their lives bravely and in the face of the enemy, which, in a way, is true.
I am not sure if I will ever tell anyone the truth of what happened out there. I doubt anyone would believe me if I did.
September 20, 1916
This will be my final entry in this journal. No one will read its contents again for a hundred years. I have never told a soul what happened to me and my men over 50 years ago now. If you are reading this a hundred years’ hence — if this wicked world survives that long — I assure you that every word of it is true. I do not know if the man-beast Kecleh-Kudleh still haunts the foothills of southern Tennessee, but I assure you that at one time it did. I swear this on the souls of all those who were lost in those woods all those many years ago.
— Eli Augusta McCabe, 1916 ~
Copyright © 2016 Valentine J. Brkich
by Valentine J. Brkich
It was beautiful. Cocoa brown with dark chocolate keys. Antique, yet it looked brand new.
“She’s ready to go, too,” said the shop’s owner, standing next to the 1961 Olympia SM4 manual typewriter. “Fella just brought ‘er in last week. Says he had no use for it anymore. You ask me, doesn’t look like he ever laid a finger on it.”
“Yes,” August replied. “It’s very nice.”
“Course, I don’t know anyone who uses typewriters anymore. Not with computers and all those high-tech do-hickies they have today.”
August rolled his eyes. “You’d be surprised,” he said. “A lot of people like to write on a typewriter. Makes the process more organic.”
The man smiled, not sure how to respond. “Yep,” he said, turning back to the machine, “she’s a real beaut.”
At $250, it was a little steep for August’s taste. But he couldn’t resist himself. It was the perfect last-minute addition for his getaway weekend. “I’ll take it!”
It has all been his wife’s idea. You should go somewhere, she’d said. Get away from it all—his job, the kids, her—with nothing to do but write, which he claimed he never had time for anymore. But August had been hesitant. He’d never been away from Susan or the kids for more than a day. What if something happened? What if the furnace quit on her or the car got a flat? Just go, she told him. She’d be fine. He knew she was right. Plus, Susan’s folks didn’t live very far away, should she need anything.
He decided to do it. He’d head up to his grandfather’s old cabin at the lake and spend an extended weekend hunkering down with his writing. Maybe a few days alone was just what he needed to get him to stop procrastinating and start writing.
And now he had the perfect no-nonsense tool to help him stay focused.
He left early Thursday morning, before the kids or the sun had risen. The old Honda rumbled down I-79 as August planned the next few days in his mind: Get up. Write for a couple hours. Take a break. Maybe go for a stroll around the lake. Eat lunch. Write until dinner. Write some more. Sleep. Repeat. It was a sound plan. Maybe he’d work on his poetry. Then again, maybe he’d really dig into his novel. It really didn’t matter as long as he was writing.
It was just as he had remembered: The wood shingles still had that mossy green color; the rhododendrons were still overgrown and wild; the front porch still had the same old swing where he’d spent many an hour reading Hardy Boys mysteries. It was here where he first decided that he wanted to be a writer.
Back then writing had been so simple. Granted, he wasn’t very good, but he never struggled to find the words. The ideas were always there. Overflowing.
Things were different now, as his mind was occupied by the burdens of adult life—paying bills, cutting the grass, going to work, etc. The stories used to pour out onto the page, effortlessly. Not anymore. And when August did find the inspiration, the process was no longer fun; it was a painful, laborious, joyless.
As he pulled into the gravel driveway alongside the cabin, August only hoped that he could somehow rekindle that long-lost magic.
He had everything set up perfectly. The Olympia was primed and ready to go with a clean white sheet of paper. The typewriter sat on his grandfather’s old mahogany desk, which faced the side window and looked out onto the bluish, glasslike water of Cooper Lake. A cup of steaming black coffee sat to the right; “Writer’s fuel,” has he liked to call it. Most important, his cell phone was nowhere in sight, buried deep within his duffel across the room. Vibrate mode on. It was the perfect setting for some inspired, uninterrupted writing.
Only…the words wouldn’t come.
An hour passed. The old coo-koo clock ticked away the seconds, each tick and tock like a hammer pounding into August’s brain. He grew more frustrated with each word he didn’t type.
Finally, he decided to get up and away from the typewriter for a while. Maybe get a little fresh air. Take a walk around the lake. Heck, he thought, even Stephen King took a walk every now and then to get the juices flowing, right? But as August went to stand, something was wrong. He couldn’t move his hands from the typewriter. His entire arms were frozen stiff, locked in the typing position—as if they had turned to stone!
“Oh, God!” he cried out. “Oh God! HELP! HELP ME!!!” August writhed in his chair, his legs flailing as he screamed in vain. What’s happening? Am I dreaming? But no matter how hard he struggled, he couldn’t move his arms or hands. Sweat dripped from his forehead. He felt dizzy. Am I having a stroke? No. It couldn’t be. A stroke wouldn’t just paralyze my arms… This was something else—something much worse. Another wave of panic hit him. “SOMEBODY!” he screamed. “SOMEBODY…PLEASE HELP ME!!”
August lost track of time as he sat frozen at his typewriter, his mind racing for an explanation. Suddenly he heard the buzzing of his cell phone vibrating in his bag across the room. For a moment he felt a glimmer of hope. Yes! he thought. I’ll just call for help! But then he realized his foolishness. How the hell are you supposed to call someone if you can’t move your damn hands, you idiot? He stared down at his fingers, which he could no longer feel or control. They might as well have been made of wax.
An hour passed. Then another. August gradually calmed himself. He would just have to wait it out. Surely this would pass, whatever it was. He didn’t feel ill. If it had been a stroke, wouldn’t he feel much worse?
But as the daylight faded, so did his calmness. This is no freak illness, he thought. He screamed out again, hoping that somehow, someone would hear him. But there was no one.
At one point a lone doe strolled past the window. August cried out and the deer’s head shot up and turned in his direction. “HELP ME!” But of course this was futile. The doe’s tail shot up, a flash of white, and then it was gone.
Afternoon became evening, and August was overcome. He was weak and hungry, and his voice was raspy and dry from hours of screaming. Water, he thought. If I could just get some water… He turned and saw his now cold cup of coffee, inches away but unattainable. The room became blurry, out of focus. August knew he was passing out, and he gave in, gladly.
It was the sound that awakened him—typebars striking paper. As his eyes slowly opened, he was stunned by what he saw. What? It can’t…it can’t be! But it was real—August’s own fingers were doing the typing!
August’s head snapped up. His fingers were typing at a furious pace. He had never seen them move so fast, so gracefully. It was beautiful. The typebars were a blur as they hammered the paper again and again. For a moment August forgot about his strange predicament as he sat and watched in awe. Then he looked down at the paper and began to read the words being produced by these hands—his hands:
AS THE MAN WROTE OUT THE RECEIPT, THE WRITER COULD HARLY CONTAIN HIS EXCITEMENT. HE COULDN’T WAIT TO GET ON THE ROAD AND GET TO WORK. IT HAD BEEN HIS WIFE’S IDEA, GOING AWAY ON A WRITER’S RETREAT….
What the hell? August thought, as he continued to read.
YOU SHOULD GO SOMEWHERE, SHE HAD SAID. GET AWAY FROM IT ALL – YOUR JOB, THE KIDS, ME – YOU KNOW, REALLY FOCUS ON YOUR WRITING…
August was dumfounded. “It’s me!” he said aloud. “It’s about me!”
But there was something about the words, how perfectly they went together. The description of the drive and of the views and all the things he had seen on his way to the cabin—it was all written so brilliantly. It was his best work ever! Only, he wasn’t doing the writing. It was his arms, his hands, his fingers—but something else was in control.
“Let me go!!” he yelled, struggling to free himself. “I’m not yours! Let me go!!” But it was no use. The more he pulled and jerked the greater the fatigue. He was a prisoner in his own skin.
Over inside his bag, August’s phone began to buzz again. Probably Susan wondering why he hadn’t checked in yet.
That’s it! She’ll know something’s wrong! She’ll know, and she’ll send someone to check on me! Surely she’d realize that something wasn’t right and call the police or even come to check on August herself.
August turned back to the page. By now the story had nearly caught up to real time.
THE WRITER SAT HORRIFIED. HIS OWN HANDS WERE DOING THE TYPING. HIS FINGERS DANCED ON THE KEYS EFFORTLESSLY, GUIDED BY SOME GHOSTLY FORCE. IT WAS ALTOGETHER BEAUTIFUL AND TERRIFYING…
For a moment, August actually smiled. Wait ‘til everyone reads this! he thought. They won’t believe it, but at least I can say that I wrote it. I don’t know how, but I wrote it!
He read on.
SUDDENLY THE WRITER HEARD A LOUD POPPING SOUND FROM THE DIRECTION OF THE FIREPLACE. HE TURNED TO LOOK AND WAS SICKENED BY WHAT HE SAW…
“Fireplace?” he said. “What the…” As August turned to the fireplace, the charred remains of a past fire began to glow, softly at first, and then brighter, and bigger. Soon flames were roaring inside the stone mouth, and August could feel the warmth and smell first traces of smoke.
Then came the loud “POP!” as an ember flew from the fire and landed in the middle of the braided throw rug.
“Oh, God!” August gasped. “Oh, God…NO!!”
As August’s fingers continued to type, the ember grew into a small flame and began to spread. Once the flames got a taste of the rug’s dried-out fibers, they wanted more. August sat watching, helpless, as the flames quickly moved on to his grandfather’s old recliner. In a flash the chair was engulfed in flames, leaving nothing but the metal skeleton beneath.
The fire then found the curtain on the side window, and it swiftly climbed the fabric to the ceiling. The exposed rafters fueled the flames as a cloud of black smoke hovered above the room, moving and changing shape as if it were alive.
August began to choke and cough as he peered up at the dark cloud. It reminded him of the summer squalls that used to rise high above the lake’s surface every now and again when he and his father were fishing. Now, just as when he was a boy, he wanted to run and hide. But he couldn’t. He was trapped, held hostage by his typewriter of all things, which was writing the tale of his demise so vividly, so perfectly.
August could feel the fire intensifying behind him. The cloud of smoke was descending upon him now, like a flood drowning the room in reverse. The smoke burnt his lungs and throat, but his fingers kept typing, even as the flames began to consume the desk. He tried to scream out, but it only made his coughing worse. As the flames reached his arms, he anticipated the pain. But there was nothing. He didn’t feel the fire as it ate away at his skin, baring the muscle, ligaments, and bone beneath.
And then the cloud fell upon him, blinding and choking him as the fire found his clothing. In a flash the words on the paper before him turned black and vanished into ash and dust. ~
Copyright © 2013 Valentine J. Brkich