The Winter Falls occurrence
The Winter Falls occurrence
A short story
The winter of 1986 was one of the cruelest ones in a long time and it changed my life forever. The residents of Winter Falls are used to this kind of weather as the town is close to the Canadian border. There were heavy snowfalls for a few days. The ground froze up, it became harder than concrete. I’m sure the kids loved it… hell, I loved the snow too when I was a kid. But the situation was not so shiny for us, gravediggers. Sorry, I forgot to introduce myself…I’m still so badly shaken by the events that happened on the night of the 17th of December.
My name is Casey Rodgers, and I worked at Cold Hill Cemetery along with my partner “Big” Jim Anderson. When we weren’t digging graves, we were on night watch. It meant extra money and it wasn’t a hard job. We did a few tours of the cemetery per night and the rest of the time we watched movies and drank beer or whiskey. Sometimes we brought our dates there and had a little fun. I kept thinking why somebody needs two guards per night at a cemetery. Then I figured that the true reason for us being there is to guard the funeral home that was adjacent to the cemetery. Richard Gravy, the owner of the Gravy Funeral Home was a rich man, so he needed us. Even though he had an alarm system installed, he insisted that we check the building periodically in his absence.
The night of the 17th, which was a Wednesday by the way, was very cold and windy. We went to work at 8:00 p.m. Our shift would have been over at 8:00 in the morning. Unfortunately it was over much too soon. We had a little cabin where we stayed when we were not searching the graveyard or the house. It had all the basics: electricity, running water, television and toilet. Mr. Gravy trusted us very much, especially me. He was one of my father’s friends and he gave me a set of keys to the funeral home.
The cabin was on cemetery ground so we usually entered through the front gate. As we entered, in front of us was the little building, on the right was the funeral home and on the left the cemetery. There was a church too but it was at the other end. As usual, we expected nothing to happen.We put some food in the fridge and left the bottle of Jack on the table.
“Let's go and make our tours.” said Jim as he turned the heater on, “Later we can watch some movies. Here, catch!” He threw me my flashlight than grabbed his.
“Thanks, what's gonna be on TV?” I asked as he went outside.
“Platoon, people say it's a great war movie.” Jim replied, I just nodded and followed him.
Jim was a big guy, hence his nickname, a real Viking. His family came from Norway, he was forty at the time, divorced and wore a beard. In contrast, I was slim but younger, only twenty-five. He locked the door and then patted me on the shoulder.
“Let’s go buddy!”
We walked slowly in the deep snow pointing our flashlights in every direction. The night was bright because the snow reflected the moonlight. Everything looked undisturbed. Even the hobos, who come here regularly in the summer, were somewhere else, somewhere warm. The town of Winter Falls was surrounded completely by pine woods. The cemetery was at the edge of town and its oldest part was bordered by the forest. We usually walked on the main path which ran along the perimeter. The cemetery was pretty large so we had to walk for almost an hour to get back to the barracks.
“I can't believe this weather, Jimmy!”
“Yeah, it's a pain in the arse. The worst part is that we'll have to bury old Mr. Hobbs.”
“Oh, shit! Why the hell did he commit suicide in the middle of winter, I don't know. Digging is out of the question now.”
“Hopefully we can wait a few days.
“I think we can. He waited two weeks hanging from a beam until they found him, a few more days won't hurt.”
“They brought the body to Gravy's today. Tomorrow a ceremony will be held, he's all prepared in his coffin on the big table.” This is how we called the altar.
“What ceremony? Who will come anyway, he had nobody.”
“Why should I know? That's the drill, I guess.”
The forest was now well in sight. Only a wire fence stood between us and the wilderness.We could see only a few yards into the woods, even with our flashlights. I fumbled in my pocket for a cigarette when “Big” Jim grabbed me by the shoulder.
“What the hell?” he said in a low but agitated voice. He ducked and kept searching the forest with the flashlight.
“What?” I said and ducked beside him pointing my light towards the trees.
“I saw something over there,” and he pointed to a specific spot but I saw nothing.
“I can't see a damn thing.”
“Looked like a pair of eyes. It was probably some animal.
“Don’t give me the creeps, man!”
“Sorry, it was just strange because we didn't see a living thing on our way here yet some animal now thought that we are interesting. Shouldn't they be hiding in this damn cold?”
“I don't know. I'm no zoologist.”
We continued our tour while all the time searching the woods but we saw nothing. The funeral home slowly appeared in the distance. First like a small shadow against the winter sky then filling it in all its dark glory. Nobody was there at the time, at least anybody living. Richard Gravy was on a vacation and his youngest son did all the work in his absence. He did not live in the house with his father, he had his own home not too far from here.
Upon reaching the gate I unlocked the padlock and we proceeded towards the front entrance. The house was old, they did some renovations a few times but it still looked old. It always gave me the creeps. I was glad Jimmy was here too.
I entered the security code in the alarm system then we entered in the foyer, I flicked the light switch and suddenly it didn't look so menacing.I stepped into the main hall where the seats and the sanctuary were on my right. The flowers were prepared around the coffin. I wondered if old Mr. Hobbs really gave shit if there are flowers all around before he is dumped six feet below. I walked to the opposite side of the entrance to the main hall and onto a corridor that lead to the back door. The back door was right behind the sanctuary, the corridor lead all the way to the other side of the main hall and it had windows to the outside. I checked the door, it was locked tight. Between the other end and the foyer was a stairwell that lead to the upper level where Mr. Gravy's living quarters were. The corridor opens to many different, smaller compartments, like restrooms, storage and changing rooms.
“The back door is locked,” I told Jim, “let’s go back and see that movie. It's almost nine.”
We locked the front door then went back to our barracks. It got warm in there while we were out. I switched on the TV, opened the bottle of Jack then we both made ourselves comfortable in front of the TV. Time passed quickly, after watching Platoon, we searched the channels until finding a horror movie with a maniac in a hockey mask. None of us knew that the true horror movie will start soon and we’ll be the protagonists.
We were about halfway through our movie when the power went out. At first we thought it was because of the weather but after looking out the window we saw that, in the distance, the street lights were working. I tried the phone but the line was dead.
“We have to check out the power panel” said Big Jim and we quickly put on our winter coats and flashlights then went outside.
Just after I turned the key something definitely fell somewhere in the house because there was a loud thump and the sound of boards breaking. We quickened our pace and I felt the adrenaline starting to work. The possibility of break-in was high given the considerable wealth of Mr. Gravy. We couldn’t call the cops so we had to investigate on our own.
Upon entering the house through the front door we immediately felt the nauseating smell of decay. Mr. Hobbs was dead for more than two weeks. My skin crawled and all my hairs were standing up. I shot a puzzled look at Jimmy and saw the hesitation in his eyes. He couldn't be scared so easily but now I saw that he was a little scared and confused. We cautiously entered the main hall and shone our lights towards the coffin. It was down in front of the table and its lid was ripped apart.
“Listen!” I whispered while holding a finger to my mouth. The sound was horrible, slouching like dragging wet rags on the floor. It came from the corridor that leads to the back door. Jim went quickly towards the corridor, pointed his flashlight to the other end then he jumped back in fright. I went there too to see what happened but now the corridor was empty, except the drag marks that went from the broken coffin towards the corner. The terrible sound continued but it got increasingly distant.
“Fucking hell,” he whispered “something is dragging the corpse.”
“Get upstairs and find the shotgun,” Jim said and pushed me towards the stairs. I didn't understand a damn thing but I complied. I went upstairs and into the dining room. The 12 gauge shotgun was above the hearth. I took it and quickly checked if it is loaded. It was so I went back down while trying to make as little noise as possible.
When I got back down, Jim was standing above the shattered coffin. He motioned me to hurry. The lid was broken into many pieces and the upper half of Mr. Hobbs's corpse was missing. I handed the gun to Jim and we headed towards the back door. It was ripped wide open. The drag marks continued in the snow towards the fence which separated the back yard from the woods.
“What the hell is happening?” I asked him although I knew he had no answer.
“I’ll be damned if I knew. Looks like the door was forced open from the outside. Something got in, smashed the coffin and dragged Hobbs’ upper half out.”
“Some kind of animal?”
“Only a bear can do that and black bears are native to these woods.”
“Aren’t bears supposed to be hibernating now?”
“Oh, I forgot about that. They should be.”
“Considering the drag marks,” and I shone my light on them, “whatever was here is gone now.
I haven't even finished the sentence when a windowpane shattered somewhere on the front of the building. We couldn't hear the glass hitting the ground because of the snow that muffled the fall. We ran to the front and searched the windows with the flashlights. One on the upper floor was broken.
“This ain't no bear,” said Big Jim and started towards the front door, I followed him. We entered the foyer then slowly approached the stairs.
Nothing moved, there was no sound except our own breathing. Jim was in front holding the gun, I was close behind. I kept looking around for something to use as a weapon but found nothing. At the top of the stairs we waited, looked around then slowly started approaching the kitchen. We were in a corridor that had doors to a kitchen, two bathrooms, a dining room and three bedrooms. There were paintings on the wall and an expensive carpet on the floor. I didn't notice too many details because my mind was in overdrive. I tried focusing on staying alive.
The kitchen door was ajar so I carefully opened it and Jim entered while holding the gun in front of him, ready to shoot. The window was broken, the curtains were moving with the draft. Another strange thing was the smell. A rotten aroma lingered in the air. Was it possible that it drifted here from downstairs? The fact is that it didn't. It wasn't long until we stared in the eyes of whatever created it.
We looked around but found nothing. Before we left the kitchen I grabbed the biggest knife I could find, just in case…My hands were shaking and cold sweat was rolling down my cheeks. I held the door for Jim and also shone my flashlight onto the corridor. It was safe to move. He noticed that the door to the dining room on the other side of the corridor was open so he stopped beside it. I gently pushed it open and we entered. It was a large room with paintings, a hearth with a large chimney. In the middle was an old oak table and chairs probably from the turn of the century. I put a hand on Jim’s shoulder signaling him to stop and listen. Rustling, barely audible but it was there. He pointed his gun towards the hearth and I knew then what he meant. Whatever was inside, it wanted to escape through the chimney.
I switched off the flashlight and approached the hearth and crouched beside it. My heart pounding like a sledgehammer, I thought it was going to burst from my body. I wanted to look up the shaft so I slowly leaned my head closer and closer. The smell was awful, it was like I wanted to stick my nose into a dead rat’s ass. Jim was ready with the gun, he stood two feet from the hearth and did not make a sound. My head got right below the shaft, it was completely dark so I pointed my flashlight upwards and switched it on. A loud shriek erupted from the top of the shaft and whatever the thing was, it escaped with a few quick moves. I fell on my butt from fright, the flashlight rolled away, it was still working. Jim was ready but there was nothing to shoot.
“It escaped,” I said in a low voice while I was gasping for breath.
“What was it?”
“I don't know. It looked human. It was barefoot and wore some ragged clothing. I didn't see a face.”
“No human can make a shriek like that. Damn, I thought my balls are gonna go back inside. “
“What do we do?” I asked and hoped he’s going to say that we should run. I wanted to leave this godforsaken place so badly but I could feel that Jim is not going to abandon the house. He was always a fighter and he was not going to run away now. Whatever is he going to say, I will stick with it.
“Shoot the damn thing before it messes up the whole place.”
So my feeling was correct. He was scared too, I could see that on his face, but he wanted to do his job whatever the cost. We headed towards the stairs again, Jim with the gun and me with the light.
“Hey Jim, do you think it’s going to come back?”
“I don’t know…but I have a feeling that it will.”
No movement in the main hall, I kept searching the surroundings with my flashlight but saw nothing. We were on the edge, our nerves were strained to the maximum. I felt my heart beating like a piston again. Jim was edgy, he reacted to every sound he heard, even the faintest one. The back door made a creaking sound and our skin crawled. Jim signaled me and we started towards the door. He moved close to the windowed side of the corridor, I was beside him. When we saw that there was nothing, Jim signaled again to move back. We barely turned and the window burst open right behind him. The thing from the chimney grabbed him and with a huge jerk, pulled him out. The gun fell out from Jim’s hands and I almost shat myself as I fell again on my sorry ass. The knife fell out of my hand. I heard him scream so I grabbed the gun and ran outside. Jim was struggling, I could hear that. I turned the corner and pointed my flashlight toward him I saw the creature. It wasn’t human, only looked like one. About five feet tall and slim, so slim that I could see all of its protruding ribs. Its eyes reflected the light, its head was bald, teeth sharp. It had skin but it looked partially decayed and it had no nose, only empty holes. There was a nauseating, rotten stench all around it. One of it's clawed hands were around Jim's throat who hit it desperately with his fists in order to loosen the grip.
When the light fell on the monster, it shrieked again and quickly jumped on the roof of the corridor and then disappeared into the darkness. It's claws made scratching sounds as they searched for purchase. I was scared shitless but I knelt beside Jim to see if he is hurt. He looked like he had no external injuries. His eyes were wide open and he was trembling all over, his breathing heavy. He reached for my hand and squeezed it.
“What t-t-the h-hell was that?” he asked, his lips barely moving.
“I don’t know but let’s get the hell out of here. Can you walk?”
“Yes…I t-t-think I c-can.”
When I grabbed him to help him up he screamed in pain. Some of his ribs have been broken, I was sure of that. Whatever the creature was, it had a terrible amount of strength. Even Big Jim wasn’t a match for it. This fact scared me, if it did this to Jim, what’s it going to do to me?
I shunned these bad thoughts from my mind and focused on the task at hand. I had to help Jim on his feet and lead him to safety. I put my arms under his and helped him stand up, it hurt him very much but I couldn’t do anything else. I put his right arm around my neck and gave him the flashlight. I grabbed the shotgun with my right hand and we started to move forward. It was a slow progress, his ribs were hurting at every step. He made gurgling sounds and I saw blood trickling from his mouth and nostrils. He had internal bleeding, his lungs were probably pierced by the broken ribs. I knew he was going to die unless I get some help quickly.
“Come on Jimmy, I have to get you to the ER.” I said as I quickened the pace.
“Fuuuuckhhhh!” he tried to shout in pain but the last part was muffled because of the damaged lung.
We barely reached the corner of the house when I was that he is fading. The flashlight was dangling in his hand and it was harder for me to move him. This was when the creature jumped on us from somewhere on the roof. The impact was violent and we both hit the ground. Fortunately the snow cushioned our fall. I turned and I saw that the creature was on top of Jim already hitting him violently. Jim fought back with all his remaining power. He landed a few powerful hits to the head of the thing while screaming in rage, like a Viking but it didn’t have much effect. I grabbed the gun which fell beside me and shot it. It was blasted to few yards from Jim. It screamed but I saw it was getting up. I shot it again trying to aim for the head but my hands were shaking badly. The pellets connected and it fell on its back. I stood there transfixed, ready to shoot if it moved again. It didn’t so I knelt over Jim. He was still breathing but he was messed up, especially his face and neck.
He was unresponsive and I couldn’t carry him, he was too heavy. I had to run and call for help. I was really hoping that somebody heard the shots and called the cops. In a few seconds I made a decision. I was going to run as fast as I could and call help before Jim freezes or bleeds to death. When I got up I recoiled in fear. The creature was up too, squatting like a chimp. It was facing me, ready to jump. I pointed the gun towards it but I couldn’t pull the trigger. It smashed into me with lightning speed and with the power of a cargo train, hitting me on the head. I hit the ground violently and almost passed out. My vision was blurry and I couldn’t move. It stood there for a moment and then I saw it grabbing Jim’s body by the collar of his coat. It looked around one final time and then moved passed me towards the forest while dragging Jim behind it. I heard the thump of Jim’s body hitting the snowy ground on the other side of the fence and then nothing but the wind.
I lay there until the police arrived. Fortunately for me, they were quick. Even with the short response time, I almost froze to death. The shots have been heard by several people and they alerted the authorities. An ambulance rushed me to the hospital and had to operate on my head as my skull was filling up with blood. I sustained brain damage, my neck was almost broken and they had to put titanium screws into my jaw.
I never told anybody about what truly happened that night, I said I can’t remember. Who would have believed me anyway? They believed the memory loss part though. After a few months in hospital and a few months at home I was better, well…except the occasional headaches and pains in my neck when the weather turned bad.
When I was finally feeling well enough, I went back to the funeral home. Of course this happened during the day. There, as the memories of that faithful night flooded my mind, I closed my eyes and swore that one day I will come back. I knew that whatever took Jim that night is still here somewhere and it will be for a long time unless I finish the job.