Letterbox

The sun shines brightly through the blinds of my empty apartment as the alarm on my phone continues to ring. Just a mattress, blankets, and a few pillows placed in the center of my living room beside my half-unpacked suitcase. Embracing the nomad lifestyle for as long as I can. Today? It’s Sunday. As most of this quaint college town either make their way to church or sleeps off a hangover after attending that rager on Greek Row, my friends and I have our own sense of community. In the form of empty bottles as targets and shell casings falling to the icy mountain back roads. The Sunday Crew. With a mixture of interests, we planned something different for all of us to enjoy. A paranormal investigation at an abandoned school. In the thinly populated town of Elk River stood an abandoned school rumored to once employ a teacher that communicated with the dead. Most of the town thought he was just going insane after his daughter passed…grief can really fuck with your head. Once the Potlatch Sawmill went under work became scarce diminishing the population significantly. Elk River Public School closed its doors in the early 1980s only to be a rotting trophy overlooking the town with trailer parks, a general store, and a lodge for tourists hoping to enjoy the snowmobile trails or hunting season.

After throwing coffee on, I text Copper to let him know I’ll be ready soon before hopping in the shower. Copper was the most honest person I’ve ever met. Regardless of your feelings, he’ll tell you exactly how it is. That’s what I like most about him. No bullshit. He says most people from Alaska are that way. Cold state, cold people. He taught Gawk and me how to shoot guns and enjoy the mountains for all they’re worth. Hawk, or as we call him, Gawk, works with us at our day job and became a part of the Sunday crew unconventionally. He’s kind of just that awkward guy who enjoys laughing at our jokes and chips in for weed. He’s wicked smart, the youngest on the crew, and just a fuckin’ goon overall.

Knowing Coppers got to pick up Gawk, I’m in no rush this morning. We’re supposed to rendezvous at Safeway with Sarah and McKenzie around 08:30AM but knowing them they’re probably running behind. Sarah’s filmmaking experience is nothing short of amateur. Given that most of us are skeptics of the whole paranormal thing, she’s just hoping to get some stunning shots of the building for a film class assignment. McKenzie is just here to have fun. Sorority girl, free spirit, and yeah…she loves her cats. McKenzie is the kind of girl that underestimates her own potential focusing on others success while ignoring her own. That’s why I think she enjoys hanging with The Sunday Crew. Everything we do is together. As much as we banter back and forth, we build each other up twice as much. Besides Gawk. He’s basically our banter post. He’s a good sport about it though. The best cone of shame model we’ve ever met. Ha-ha.

With my towel around my waist, I pour myself some coffee, add a little schnapps, and check my emails. One of the few negatives about being a nomad is we usually don’t buy furniture or televisions because before you know it, we’re off on the next adventure. I have a few dishes from the local thrift shop, a coffee maker, an inflatable mattress, and an internet connection to watch The Office over again on my laptop. After answering a few emails, I double check that my bag is packed with lunch and any other shit I may need. Throw on my clothes for the day, grab my jacket, and head out for a cigarette. Nasty habit, I know. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to quit. Every summer I head to work in Maine, and that’s the only place I don’t feel the need to pick up a cigarette. Besides being able to work and live in many different states, a major positive about being a nomad is experiencing the culture of each place and having the knowledge of where I’d like to finally settle one day. Maine, well…that’s at the top of my list.

Daydreaming, I accidentally drag into the filter of my cigarette burning my fingertips as Copper pulls up jokingly honking his horn at me. “Where’s the Gawk man at?” I jokingly retort noticing the empty passenger seat. “He’s in the back seat, you ready?” Copper says eager to get on the road. “Yeah, let me grab my bag I’ll be right down,” I respond heading back up the stairs to my apartment. Locking the door behind me I shuffle enthusiastically back down the stairs like a kid on Christmas morning. Giving Gawk a quick playful jab, we all laugh as we head off to meet with the girls at Safeway. “Once we leave town, it’s basically just a straightaway through some pocket-sized cities on ID-8 E and we’ll be there in about an hour,” I say out loud with the biggest grin on my face. This is the shit I live for. Exploring abandoned buildings and chasing the make-believe. All in the best company.

Pulling up to the Safeway, we’re already a few minutes behind schedule and still no sign of Sarah and McKenzie. We head inside to grab some snacks and energy drinks. I’d say we’re the loudest people anywhere we go. After a few gags pointed at Gawk in the store we all make our way back to Coppers car seeing McKenzie parked nearby. “Bitch you stopped for coffee and didn’t ask if we wanted anything?”  I joke holding my own concoction of coffee and peppermint schnapps in my hand. “Get in bitch, we’re leaving,” Sarah says. “We’ll just follow you goons since you have the directions,” I shout to Copper and Gawk as I step into McKenzie’s car.

I knew we would be heading into the deep woods of Idaho, but I didn’t think about how scenic the drive would be. Each town we passed grew smaller in population, but more visually striking and vaster in land. The back-mountain roads were laced with miles of snow-covered trees and seemingly endless hillsides. We pass a practically empty cemetery atop a lonely hill in the town just outside of our destination. A family is gathered around the only headstone in sight mourning the loss of a loved one. As we’re the only cars passing through, they glare at us crossly as if our presence was disturbing their private ceremony. Finally, we pass the town sign reading Elk River. Pulling in, our mouths were agape at the school hanging over the town at the top of the hill. Some windows smashed, doors beat in, and grounds ultimately trashed. What surprised me the most was the lack of ‘No Trespassing’ signs that are usually posted all around these places. But hey, I’m not complaining at an enter at your own risk situation. Before we could even chat for a second, Sarah had her camera out making her way around the building exterior. Without hesitation, I make my way towards the back entrance. “Wait,” McKenzie says. We all stop and gather around a pitiful plot marked by torn crime scene tape, a memorial for Catherine Walker written on a paper plate, and two wooden stakes in the form of a cross. “Wasn’t she found just last week?” McKenzie asks. “I know she’s been dead for a few decades, but damn…she’s already forgotten again.” Sarah adds. We all sit in an unexpected moment of silence as the frigid air moves up the back of our necks. In a way, I think we all were reminded at that moment to appreciate our lives just a bit more. “It’s cold, can we- “. Copper smacks Gawk. “Ow, Copper. What the fuck?” “Ruined a moment Gawk…now this little girl can’t rest in peace.” Copper teases walking back towards the back entrance. “Hey, I didn’t fucking kill her.” Gawk shouts following Copper. Sarah and McKenzie laugh at Gawk as they head to the front entrance. Oddly wallowing at this poor young girls’ demise, I stay there a moment sipping my holiday season beverage of depression and loneliness. “You alright?” Copper states in a consoling tone. “Yeah…yeah, I’m good. I thought you went inside.” I reply lighting a cigarette while wiping a tear or two on my jacket. “Gawk and I were waiting for you. Let’s go fuck with the dead!” He eggs on smiling as he runs back.

Entering through the back we believe we may be in either the storage or cafeteria. Two totally different rooms…I know. It’s difficult to tell with the amount of damage around us. Long, bench style lunch tables are folded against the walls. With a variety of different trash items, mold, and mysterious puddles of murky liquid scattered around the floors, we begin to search for higher ground. I don’t know where you grew up, but I think it would be quite odd to go to a school that serves grades K-12. One school. Every grade. Even in its hay day, that’s still a tiny town. Making our way to the front, Sarah and McKenzie avoid stepping on the shattered glass from the broken entrance doors. A vintage vacuum stands ironically next to the thousands of sharp pieces. With a classroom to each side, we begin to explore as a unit. The shrill carpets are torn from the floors, some windows covered, and the inside walls lined with classic green chalkboards. I begin searching the drawers of the only desk in the room. Gawk stands awkwardly close to the exit as Sarah and McKenzie’s eyes are drawn to the view of their cameras. Copper sifts through a few bookshelves finding nothing but dust, empty beer bottles, and makeshift ashtrays. Emptying the drawers, I only find the remnants of mice nests. Ready to move on I head to the adjacent classroom. The same setup, just a little less run down. I stare at the chalkboard where someone has written “Go to the BELL TOWER” in fresh white chalk across the center. “Hey guys, get in here!” I shout. “Was that there when we came in?” Gawk states a little uncomfortable. “Joseph, what the fuck man?” Copper questions. “Guys, it wasn’t me!” I express attempting to defend my point. “Alright, then let’s go to the bell tower.” Copper grumbles as he walks back towards the main entrance. “I feel like that was already on our fuckin’ agenda assholes,” I add walking with them. We begin to ascend the massive stairwell. “Gawk, where are you going?” Copper asks noticing he’s walking towards the back entrance. “I got to go to the bathroom. You got a flashlight?” Gawk inquires. We all laugh heading back down near the poorly marked restroom. “I’ll go with you, you know I always have to piss,” I add. I’ve explored endless abandoned buildings, but this bathroom didn’t smell half as bad as most. Usually, there’s some sunlight shining through, but on the first floor, I understand why there wouldn’t be a window. A few urinals, two stalls, an elongated mirror, and for some odd a reason a shower made up this restroom. Trying to stay as far back from the urinal as possible, I take aim and begin to pee. As soon as I noticed Gawk isn’t at another urinal, I hear his stream hit an empty porcelain bowl. “Are you using the stall?” I ask questioning his choices. “Yeah…I can’t pee with people watching.” He returns. “I mean…I would’ve just let you go first-” “BOO!” Copper screams in my ear as I fall to the floor. “Fuck man! What the hell?” “Found your chalk boogeyman.” He spouts proudly throwing a piece of white chalk at me. Sarah and McKenzie enter. “You guys done jerking each other off in here? There’s so much more to see in this place.” Sarah mocks. “Whoa.” She audibly admires the huge mirror behind her. “Let’s get a picture of us all,” McKenzie adds. “Gawk! Put your dick away and come take a picture with us!” Copper laughs to himself. “It’s not flushing.” Gawk replies as we all facepalm. “Just…just get out here.” I end. Staring at the mirror we admire this moment. The Sunday Crew. A combination of fun and fucked up make for one dysfunctional family photo.

After that impromptu photo shoot, we finally head to the second level. Cork bulletin boards and torn wallpaper hang loosely on the walls. There are a few more classrooms around, collectively we walk into a class to be greeted by a rodent friend scurrying across the floor. A loud thump echoes from the classroom downstairs. Much like our rodent friend, we scurry down the stairs once again, to find a ladder has been placed in the center of the room. “Hello?” I call out, in hopes I receive a reply.  There’s none. “Someone’s just trying to fuck with us, you guys- “. McKenzie freezes as she stares at the chalkboard that now has the phrase “Go to the BELL TOWER” written a hundred times over. “Obviously they want us to go to the bell tower,” Copper says smartly in attempts to hide his anxiety. Gawk runs swiftly to the back entrance towards the car. Chasing after him we realize the back doors are renewed and the tables are set for lunch.

A school bell is heard as about a hundred elementary age kids rush in finding a seat chatting loudly with each other. “Well…I guess we know this was the cafeteria.” I utter trying to lighten the mood. “You guys see this, right? There’s no way I’m this drunk.” “You’re always drunk.” Gawk mumbles. “Hey, fuck you man, you know I hate the holiday season!” I shout back. “Guys, can we argue about this another time? We’re in a literal nightmare at the moment.” McKenzie interrupts. “Holy shit, it’s him.” “It’s who Joseph?” “The teacher that talked to the dead. That’s Tom Walker.” Walking away from the crew in attempts to get a closer look, I’m immediately grabbed behind my ear by a strict older man who drags me to a seat. “Ow. Fuck, man. At least buy me dinner first.” I whine. “Quiet, lunch will be served shortly.” He states firmly. Releasing my ear, he walks on staring cruelly at my friends. They join me at the table in haste. “Okay…Joseph, don’t take this wrong way, but WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?!” McKenzie cries in my ear. “Don’t you think if I knew…I’d tell you.” “WELL, YOU FUCKING BROUGHT US HERE!” She screams. “Calm down McKenzie, Jesus Christ. We’re all a bit lost right now.” Copper adds hoping to de-escalate the situation. “Just give me a second.” I sit in my own thoughts for a moment going through every paranormal book, film, text…anything to get some type of answer. “Alright look.” I begin to think out loud as everyone gathers around. “We’re here. And the school’s in session, but not really. We know the school was abandoned in the eighties, so we have to be somewhere in that time.” “So, we time traveled… “. Gawk interjects. “No. Shut up.” Taking a drink from my flask I attempt to dig deeper as my fingertips tap violently on the table in front of me. “Alright…so. We must be stuck in a memory or an event. There’s a theory that haunted houses give you a look at what happened and why it’s being haunted.” “What do you mean?” Sarah questions. “It’s called a time loop or slip or…fuck I don’t know. Anyway, it’s like watching a movie from the past…you see everything like it was. Before all the paranormal shit takes over.” I poorly explain. “The only thing to do now…is sit back and try to enjoy the show.” I finish. “Well, that’s just grand.” McKenzie stands. “‘Enjoy the show’. You say that like this is some…some immersive theatre display. News flash city boy! You’re not in Brooklyn anymore and I know-“

“QUIET!” The cafeteria becomes silent as the old man’s icy voice sends shivers down our spines. McKenzie sits. “Lunch will be served shortly. Line up accordingly.” He announces. “Guys, I really don’t think I could eat anything right now.” Gawk whispers. “Shut up Gawk.” We all whisper back. Trying to fit in we all line up with the other kids for lunch. My eyes are glued to the teacher table where Tom Walker seems distraught. The other teachers seem to be conversing around him as he chain smokes mouthing the text of a book he’s reading on the table. “So…what grade are you in?” Copper asks the girl behind us. “She can’t fucking hear you moron.” I mock hitting him on the shoulder. “How was I supposed to know?” “We’re only supposed to see what they want us to see. You’re a ghost in their world.” I explain. “What kind of mindfuck is that?” Copper says to himself, still in slight disbelief. I look back to the teacher table and Tom Walker has left. Grabbing my tray quickly, I push my way through the line scoping the cafeteria for him. He’s gone. Immediately tossing my tray aside, I decide to explore on my own. Walking out of the cafeteria directly under the stairwell to the second level there’s a classroom list on a bulletin board. Skimming through with my index finger, I look for Mr. Walker. Elementary English…Second Floor…Classroom B. Knowing that the elementary class is currently eating lunch, I make my way up the stairs.

Reaching the second floor I’m pushed aside by an aggressive young woman angrily marching towards Classroom B. I follow. “Dad? Dad!? What the hell is this?” She yells into the classroom with a notebook at hand. Tom Walker comes into view. Still, cigarette hanging from his lower lip. He’s shaking…and seems sweaty. “It’s the book. The one.” He stops to look around as if it’s a secret. “He…HE gave me.” He continues to answer, pointing to the ground. “Who dad? Who gave this to you? It’s filled with gibberish; did you write it?” She asks concerned. There’s no answer, she begins to grow more concerned. “Dad, there’s blood and pictures of mom in here. She’s dead dad, you have come to grips with that. SHE’S DEAD! Georgia’s dead! Don’t you understand that!?” He pulls her inside the classroom with force covering her mouth as she tries to fight back. Trying not to bring attention to myself, I move closer to the door but stay out of sight. I feel that I should run in and help her, however, this already happen. Will my actions change the outcome? Will the time slip end? Am I thinking too much on this? Probably. Inching up to the classroom door frame, I hear Mr. Walker speaking softly, yet promptly. I can’t make out anything he’s saying so I decided to take a peek. Feeling like a drunk bootleg version of a classic mystery gang, I stretch my neck around the door frame immediately regretting that decision. My back hits the wall behind me as my eyes close and my heart rate spikes. Attempting to breathe through a panic attack, glimpses of his exposed body hanging over her lifeless corpse flash before me as I sink lower to the floor. With a miniature blade, he seems to be carving distinct markings into her body while continuing to whisper over her. “What the fuck is going on up here?” Copper says making his presence known. Tom Walker pauses his chanting and intently charges us both. “RUN!” I scream as we both sprint down the stairs running into Sarah and McKenzie. We all stop to collect our thoughts. As my breathing begins to normalize, I give a panicked recap. “The teacher. No pants. Running…so fast. All the rolls just-“. “GUYS!” Copper interrupts. “Guys, we’re back.” He says with a sigh of relief. “We’re back? We’re back!” McKenzie exclaims as they embrace one another. The time slip has ended. Still collecting my feelings on the ground, I notice Gawk is missing. “Where’s Gawk?” “He was just right behind us…I swear he was right here.” Sarah says as we all begin to panic searching around this abandoned school hastily for our friend. “Hello?” We hear from above. “Hello?” We all call back looking to the worn wood rotting from the ceiling above. “HELLO?” It calls once more. “It’s Gawk!” I yell sprinting up the stairs. “Gawk, where are you? Gawk!” We continue to cry out. “HELLO!?” He cries again. Clearer in location, our attention is now on a small closet door. We’re frightened as the sun has set and darkness resides over us. With only the light of our camera, I reach slowly for the door handle opening it swiftly. A frigid wind comes through the shattered window, inside stands a ladder and broken chalkboard that reads “Go Up!!”.

With slight hesitation, I begin to climb the ladder ascending towards our original goal…the bell tower. “Ummm…I’ll be down here,” McKenzie calls out. Continuing on, Copper follows closely behind. As we reach the top it’s almost just like an attic, but with a larger window. “There’s not even a fucking bell up here!” I shout down to them. “Who cares, is Gawk alright?” McKenzie yells back. “He’s not up here,” I reply. “There’s just a bunch dust, molded insulation, and a cigar box. I could go for a smoke right now.” Opening the cigar box, it’s filled with worn papers, broken pens, and a leather-bound notebook. The papers had an illegible scribe written in red ink covering every inch of open space. “This guy really missed his wife.” Copper states sifting through the notebook as I examine the papers a bit closer attempting to read the papers aloud, but I just make myself sound drunker than I already am. “HIC EN SPIRITUM SED NON INCORPORE EVOKARE LEMURES DE MORTUIS DECRETUM ESPUGNARE DE ANGELUS BALBERITH EN INFERNO INREMEAB-uh fuckin’ hell.” I put the papers aside rubbing out my eyes. “By all means, have another drink, Joseph.” I wave him off. “Look. There are just endless letters to her about how much he wishes he could be with her again and that they’ll be together soon. Here. December 17th, 1976 ‘Our daughter looks just like you, gorgeous in every way’. What a freak.” He elaborates. “Wait, is that Walker’s journal?” I question. “Uh, duh. He’s the only psycho here, besides your drunk ass.” He replies. “First, fuck you. Second, that doesn’t make any sense. His wife was dead well before then.” “Alright then Sherlock, guess the guy was just insane. He talks about taking his own life to be with her or killing his daughter, so they can be a family again. Then just repeats wa ta na siam wa ta na siam wa ta na siam, whatever that is. It just gets more fucked up as you keep reading.” “What if he wasn’t just trying to talk to the dead, he was trying to raise them? Through some sort of sacrifice or ritual or something.” I conclude. “Now you sound just as insane as he did,” Copper says with a slight hint of anxiety under his breath. “These markings are similar to necromancy, he was digging this into his daughters’ skin when I saw them.” “Hello?” A fading voice calls out to us. “Hello?” We both call back. “Who’s there? I have a gun!” Copper adds. “Gawk! Is that you man? We’re done playing games. Come out!” I yell.  Suddenly, our lights go out and I’m frozen in fear. Chills roll up my hands onto my wrists as I can feel every hair on my arms rise with goosebumps. A moist, rancid breath hovers my ear. Its tongue reaches out to tease me laughing as I quiver. “What’s wrong Tom? I thought you liked when I did that.”

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

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