July 20th/ North Townline Road/ Cheonoquet Michigan/ 1990
Gary was holding the flimsy, blue, plastic flashlight under his chin and making ghost sounds at the end of his story, trying to scare the other boys, but none were having it. Not even his cousin Carl, who was by all accounts a chicken shit.
“ L, L, Lame as usual Gary” Tony Reeves mumbled in his usual stammered speech. Tony pushed up his Coke bottle glasses and smiled at Gary who shrugged it off and passed the flashlight to Matt on his right.
“Hey man, I tried. You all just don’t scare easy.” He shot his little cousin Carl a glance though that suggested, all but you any way.
Carl was too busy fighting to open another chocolate pie to notice the glance though.
The four boys ranged between ten, Tony and Carl, to eleven and twelve, Gary being the oldest. Three of them were perfectly normal in all capacity, but Tony however was the exception.
“I know of something I can show you guys” Matt piped up. “It’s not really scary, so much as cool.”
The boys all paused and looked in his direction.
“What is it Mattie?” Carl asked with a mouth full of chocolate pie. Car; was already getting portly and didn’t need another chocolate pie, but there he was downing the third one that night.
“Fairies. Here in the woods.” Matt watched the other boys for their reactions.
The tent fell silent and then Gary began to laugh.
“There’s a fairy at the grocery store. You all met Allen right?” Gary laughed hard. This in turn got his cousin laughing and just so he didn’t stand out, Tony began to laugh too. Honestly though, Tony didn’t know what was so funny about fairies. Allen at the grocery store didn’t have pixie wings or a wand. How was he a fairy?
“No I mean real fairies. They show up at night in the woods down the road. I’ll show you jerks.” Matt was a bit annoyed. These were his friends after all. He should have expected this.
It took the four boys some time to climb out of the tent and into the cool summer night. The lights in Matt’s house were still on and his mom was at the kitchen sink, facing the back yard. It looked like she was washing dishes while his dad was watching T.V. probably watching the news. Matt glanced at his watch and saw it was just after ten.
The boys all had their own flash lights and Gary pulled out his trusty pocket knife.
“Just in case we see a bear or something” he grinned.
“Yeah, if we spot a bear you’ll be the first to shit your pants” matt snorted.
“Whatever.” Gary rolled his eyes and pocketed the knife.
The four started off toward the neighbor’s back yard. All of Matt’s neighbors were seasonal on this side of the woods. It was pretty much the same on the other end with one other kid from their school who lived there year round, but Matt and his group hardly knew the kid and didn’t talk to him.
The four set off through the woods with their flash lights. They trudged through the dark brush under tall ever greens and maple for what seemed like hours. Carl jumped at every sound they made and animal sounds around them. Matt was sure Carl would be the first to piss his pants should they hear or see anything significant.
Soon they came to a line of earth in the woods that looked as if it was burnt. The burnt trench of ground stretched all along the tree line that was set back a few feet from where the boys stood. The trees in the other side were burnt as well and stood like creepy Christmas trees made for Halloween. A few rows of burnt trees finally gave into living trees that were twisted and mangled. There were orange flags hanging from the trees signifying the beginning of the Skin Woods. Matt wasn’t sure why that section of forest was called the Skin Woods, but he was told to stay away from that area. He was allowed to play in the woods but not here.
Matt took a seat on a fallen tree facing the border of Skin Woods and turned off his flashlight. The other boys did the same. The air smelled strangely burnt still even though matt was sure whatever fire had burned the trees had happened long before he was born.
Tony pushed up his glasses and squinted hard. “M, M, Matt. I Don, see, anythn.” Tony muttered. He was forward so far that Matt was just waiting for Tony to slip off the tree and face plant into the ground. He reached over casually and pulled on Tony back a bit.
“Just wait.” Matt whispered.
The boys sat in the dark silence for a few minutes before Tony’s hand shot up excitedly and Matt had to cover his mouth and keep him from saying anything.
A blue light glittered through the branches and trailed through the air, leaving a white tail of light behind it. It slowly drifted around trees and branches, leaving a trail dimming light behind it. Soon one became two, and then two became ten. Not long and the woods were full of slowly dancing, shifting balls of blue light with white tails. They changed direction, zig zagging around each other, up and down. One was caught in a loop, spinning around in a circle before breaking off toward the sky. The lights were bright but they really didn’t aluminate anything around them.
Matt hadn’t noticed that Tony had slowly gotten up and walked closer to the edge of the border until the fairies began to move closer to them. They seemed to swarm up close to where Tony stood as if they were fascinated by him instead of the other way around.
Tony’s hand was held out and one grazed his palm. He smiled wide and began to laugh a bit.
Matt suddenly felt this was wrong. They didn’t belong here. He glanced to the others to see they had the same feeling as well. The deep gnawing sense that they were trespassing in someone’s yard hit the three of them. Matt was sure that whatever punishment would come from the owner, it would be worse than any spanking he had ever faced.
“We need to go” Gary whispered.
Matt was up and tugging on Tony’s jacket, but Tony had that, what Gary called “retard strength” and wouldn’t budge.
“Tony we have to go” Matt urged.
“I wanna stay, wit dem.” Tony grumbled softly. “Let me stay” he then spoke clear as a bell.
Matt was thrown by this a moment. In all the years he had known Tony, Tony had never spoke this clear. He spoke like a normal boy and not someone with Autism.
“No, we need to go.” Matt and Gary both tugged at Tony this time, making him stumble back. The three fell back and hit the ground hard. Gary scraped his elbow on the fallen tree they were sitting on and yelped out. When Matt looked at Tony he could see Tony had snapped out of whatever trance he was in and had joined them in the “we need to get the hell out of Dodge” state of mind.
Carl helped Gary up and matt helped pull Tony to his feet. It was then that they noticed the dancing fairy lights had disappeared and the forest was dark and silent. Not a single cricket, owl, or peep toad could be heard in all the forest. Dead, deafening, calm silence. Like being on a beach during the eye of a hurricane.
The four stood in the silence and strained their ears to hear anything. They were sure that they couldn’t even hear their own breathing.
“We need to…” Matt started, but was cut off by a howling cry from the Skin Woods side of the trees.
All four boys could feel their hearts leap into their throats and the blood pounding in their ears. They paused a moment and listened to the silence once again.
“What was…” Gary started.
The howling cry came again. It was like the mix of a woman screaming in bloody murder, a wolf howling, and a screeching chair dragged across a floor but ran through a radio full of static. It sounded exactly the same as the first cry. There wasn’t even a pitch difference, Matt was sure.
“Run!” Matt shouted.
Flashlights came on and feet began to move as the boys set off through the woods fast. Twigs and branches snapped under their feet as they pounded through the brush and back to a small deer run the boys had used as a trail to get there.
The forest around them erupted in static sounds. The air was alive with sound now and it was deafening.
“Faster!” Matt urged them. He was near the back helping Tony to keep up with Carl and Gary who were now far ahead, but fumbling to find their way. They weren’t familiar with the woods the way Matt was.
Carl stammered and fell hard on the ground as the sounds of the forest grew more intense. Gary stopped to help his cousin up and it allowed Matt and Tony to catch up to them. They managed to get Carl to his feet and back on the run. The smell of piss now filled the air.
Behind them came the howling scream again. It was closer now. Matt was now certain it sounded the exact same as the first two howls.
Ahead the boys could see the dark house belonging to the seasonal neighbor and they felt their feet pick up a bit faster. They passed the edge of the forest and suddenly the sounds stopped. While running into the yard, Matt noticed he could hear crickets again. The usual sounds of the forest came back as if they had never left in the first place.
The boys were too scared to stop though and kept running across the dirt road that ran along Matt’s house and lead back to another seasonal cabin, but Matt did what one is never supposed to do. He looked back. Every horror movie Matt had ever seen, he knew better than to look back, but he couldn’t help himself. Something told him to look.
Matt saw the man standing at the edge of the woods in the brush. He was dressed in a leather jacket and jeans, with dark brown hair, but he had no face. There was only a static, fuzzy blank space where a face should be. It was as if the T.V. signal was going out and the static was making his face out of focus. Matt only saw him for a second but the image was burned into his head.
The boys rushed across Matt’s back yard and to the house. They all charged into the back door and nearly collapsed on the floor. Matt’s cat hissed at the boys as they came in fast. They had startled her in her attempts at begging to go outside. She ran away with her tail frizzed out, growling all the way to his room to hide under the bed.
Matt’s mom jumped and nearly dropped a dish. She was still washing dishes?
“What the hell!?” Kate set the dish in her hand down and grabbed a hand towel to dry her hands and scold the boys. She stopped though at seeing how terrified they were. Gary was bleeding from the elbow and Carl had pissed his pants.
“What the hell did you boys do” Arnold had gotten up from his chair and made his way to the boys. Matt’s dad wasn’t a tall or a broad man, but he was known in town as a scrapper. His first two weeks in town he had been kicked out of every bar for fighting. He put a man through a window for harassing the waitress once. Arnold didn’t tolerate abuse toward women or children. He never rose his voice to Matt unless Matt had really pushed him to it, and never raised a hand to Matt or his wife Kate. Matt could count all the spanking he received on one hand, and he had to really earn those few. He could tell that his dad always felt bad afterwards too, and always bought him ice cream, followed by a stern talking to.
“We saw fairies” Tony spoke out honestly.
Matt groaned. Leave it to the mental kid to tell the truth.
“You were in the woods?” Arnold reached out and grabbed his son by the arm and pulled him closer.
“I wanted to show them the lights” Matt stammered.
Kate was already tending to Gary’s arm and telling Carl to jump into the shower.
“What happened?” Arnold asked in a level tone.
Matt began to tell his dad all about how they snuck over to see the lights and then the sounds they heard.
Matt hadn’t finished his story before his dad got up and walked to the phone. Kate walked over to Matt to check him over and he glanced at the clock on the wall behind her.
“It’s only ten fifteen?” Matt looked at his mom surprised.
She smiled at him a bit puzzled. “Why, what time do you think it is?”
“You were doing dishes when we left and dad was watching the news. I swear we were gone for an hour at least.” Matt looked at the dishes his mother was washing. It was a small load. She should have been done long ago, not still washing them. The news hadn’t even gotten to the weather at 10:30 yet. Matt was baffled by the fact that hardly any time had passed. It felt like it should be later in the night.
Not long after Carl had finished his shower and changed into some of Matt’s cloths, there was a knock at the door.
Arnold answered the door and greeted one of his old bar friend in a language Matt didn’t know. The tall man entered the house and removed his trucker hat and looked down at the boys. His skin was the color of brown leather and he had his long black hair in a skinny braid behind his head. His shoulders were very broad, the same as his jaw. He had a leather bag in his hands with a blue stone clasp holding it closed.
“You boys had a run in” he stated in a thick voice.
Matt had thought all Indian’s wore feathers and spoke funny like in the movies, but Tall Bull , as he was introduced, spoke normal, and wore jeans and a t-shirt with a beer logo on it like a normal person.
Tall Bull pulled some items from his bag and began to chant as he fanned smoke from a bundle of burning twigs in a shell, with a feather. He stopped when he reached Tony and leaned down to look at the boy.
“This one’s special” he said. He gave a thin lipped smile at Tony.
Tony smiled at the man. “I’m Autistic” he said, but it came out more like “I’m Otistit.” Tony’s mother always called him special where others called him retarded. He preferred the word special.
Tall Bull nodded his head and wafted smoke onto Tony. He then sprinkled ash along the doors and windows of every room and came back for his hat.
“Glad you called me. If anything else happens, call me” he shook Arnold’s hand and nodded. “See you on Sunday brother.”
As Tall Bull passed Matt he rustled his hair.
After Tall Bull was gone and Kate got the other boys settled in front of the T.V with cookies, Matt walked over to his dad.
“Is he my uncle?” He asked.
Arnold smiled. “No, me and Tall Bull are blood brothers. He knows I have Native blood in me, not as much as him though and he’s Navijo where we are Black Foot. We both fell into some bad times and Tall Bull always had my back and I had his. One time I got injured at the mill and I needed a blood transfusion. I have a rare blood type and it’s hard to find. Tall Bull is the same type as me and he donated his blood to help me. I had to do the same for him a few years after that, right after you were born. So we are blood brothers.”
Matt then tilted his head to look at his father. “So what did he just do?”
“He blessed you boys and the house. You ran into something old in the woods. Something bad that could harm you if given the chance. He protected you from that thing, but you have to stay away from it. Got it Mathew?”
Matt nodded his head. “What was it?” He asked.
His father tensed up a bit and shook his head. “Don’t talk about it. It draws it’s attention to you. Best for you to go on with your life and don’t think about it. Don’t talk about it.”
“But what’s it called? The faceless fuzzy man..”
Arnold reached out and placed a finger over Matt’s lips. “I said don’t talk about it. Go watch T.V with your friends.”
That night the boys slept in the living room. When the cat finally came out, she joined them. She curled up next to Tony and kept watch at the window outside. Matt noticed a shadow at the window and the cat growled low. Soon the shadow passed. Soon Matt’s eyes grew heavy and he fell asleep.
The dogs were useless and no matter what the rescue unit did. Some walked in circled and whimpered as they pissed on their tails tucked between their legs, a few would look up into the trees and sit down, and not move. One dog began to panic and raced off back toward the main road from the two track trail into Skin Woods. The handler raced after his dog and called her name but it was too late. The semi-trucks on Townline always went faster than indicated on the speed limit signs and there was no stopping for the K-9.
The trucks tires rolled over the dog quickly. There was no thud, yelp, or any sound for that matter other than the truck passing. The handler collapsed to his knees and watched the mass of fur get spat out the back and tumble along the road. What was once a German Shepard was now a bag of fur full of oatmeal.
The poor guy couldn’t even scream. He just sat on his knees in the dirt, slack jawed and lost. Dwight Hodges ordered two men to go get the guy and take him home, and ordered another with the task of collecting what was left of the dog to bury later.
Dwight ran his hand over his sweaty face and looked over at Arnold. “God dammit, this is going nowhere. Can’t you call Tall Bull and have him get his Indian ass over here? He found the last retard kid that got lost in the woods here.”
“Tall Bull won’t step foot in these woods after that, you know that.” Arnold opened his thermos and took a swallow of coffee, finding it was the last. Good thing Kate was on her way down the road with more for everyone. Bless her heart she was at home making pot after pot of coffee for the volunteers while Matt made sandwiches, and few women from the Lioness Club were bringing more refreshments.
“I know but we could use some of that voodoo shit he does.” Dwight then tilted his head at Arnold. “You’re an Indian right?”
Arnold knew where this was going. “I’m not a medicine man.”
“No but your grand dad was right?”
“I didn’t get to know the man to learn anything and my dad was an abusive drunk.” Arnold felt like he had explained this more than once. Dwight was always trying to get Tall Bull to use his “voodoo” to track big buck for him. Tall Bull always declined and said that if he were to get a big buck, then one would come to him. “So I didn’t get any “voodoo” knowledge passed down to me from him.”
“Yeah but you can tap into some of that spirit shit right? I mean you don’t look like an Indian, but you are one. That has to count for something” Dwight teased.
Arnold was blond haired and blue eyes, but almost half Black Foot at least. He had more French traits than the Black Foot, but if you looked hard you could see hints of his Native American bloodline.
“You know what happened when Tall Bull found that boy, right?”
“I heard he was in a tree. They said a mountain lion dragged him up there for a meal or some shit. D.N.R still say we don’t have Mountain Lions but that’s the official story they gave. Funny how an animal we don’t have just popped up long enough to drag a kid up a tree for a snack.”
“It was worse than that” Arnold lowered his voice some. “Tall Bull talked about it once. He was really drunk, otherwise he wouldn’t have said anything about it.” Arnold looked around to make sure no one else was in ear shot of them. “He said the boy was up in the tree and his guts were strung around like a garland on a Christmas tree. Besides missing his shoes and having his insides on the outside, he was in perfect condition and was still warm.”
“Jesus” Dwight gasped.
“The kid had Downs Syndrome. He was berry picking with his mom and one second there and the next he was gone. The men searched these woods top to bottom for a week and Tall Bull had followed his spirit guide to an area that was already searched the day before. It was as if someone or something had just dropped him there, high in the tree. They needed climbing spikes to get up there but his jacket was visible from a good distance. They should have seen him the day before, had he been there.”
“And he was still warm?”
“It was the middle of November. “ November in Northern Michigan was cold, full of frozen rain or snow.
Dwight’s eyes were wide. “Shit Forester, that’s some scary shit.” Dwight pulled a hankie from his pocket to wipe off his face. His large, dark mustache hid his quivering lip, but Arnold caught sight of it. Dwight was shaken by the story and beginning to second guess being out there.
“Were there any tracks found?” Dwight asked.
“He said it had been snowing all that week and not a track found.”
“What the hell could do something like that to a kid?”
“I can’t say what I think it might be.” Arnold answered honestly. “But it’s bad. It’s one hell of a hunter.”
Just then Kate pulled up in the Safari station wagon and off into the grass to park. One of the volunteers perked up.
“Hot damn, Kate’s got coffee!” He raced toward the station wagon to lend a hand unloading the coffee and food.
Kate climbed out of the car and headed to the back to open the hatch where she had coolers full of coffee, and a tomato can box full of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Matt slowly got out of the car and gave his dad a hopeful glance as if to ask. “Did you find him yet?”
Arnold made his way to Matt and gave him a hug. “Not yet buddy” he whispered. He could feel his son tremble in his arms. Tony was Matt’s best friend. He was proud of his son for befriending a kid that otherwise would have no friends. For some reason Matt had taken to Tony and soon Gary and Carl had warmed up to Tony as well. Where the other kids teased Tony and called him retarded, his son stood up for Tony, He was proud that his son was turning out to be a good boy and would grow into a fine man.
Tony’s dad, Ted Reeves, was a tall thin man who looked like he had never seen dirt in his life. It was clear by how he was dressed that he was not an outdoors type. Ted owned one of the banks in town and always had on some tacky sweater vest with a tie underneath. He was fidgeting with a compass that was only spinning in circles.
“That’ll do you no good out here” Dwight said over his shoulder. Dwight towered over Ted despite being tall himself. Then again at 6’ 6” Dwight towered over most people.
“Why are you here bothering me when you should be out there looking for my son” Ted snapped.
“We go in shifts Mr. Reeves. I explained that to you. One team is out searching while the other is resting. An hour later we switch.”
“How can you cover a lot of area like that? It seems silly to me” Ted was frustrated.
“I would explain the grid system to you again but I don’t think you’ll get it” Dwight groaned. “Look, we got this. Go home with your wife. We will call you as soon as we find something.”
“Something?” Ted turned sharply. “You mean his body?! Like that boy fifteen years ago!” Ted was raising his voice.
Others stopped to stare at Ted, who was now shouting at Dwight. Dwight held up a hand to the others to let them know he had this handled. “We will call you, as soon as we find something” he repeated slowly.
“I know your kind!” Ted started. “I heard all about you Dwight Hodges! You’ve had how many illegitimate children now? Do you even talk to any of them? You don’t know what it’s like to be a parent! Just because you pumped a few babies into some whores in town, don’t mean you’re a parent!”
Dwight’s hand balled into a fist but he caught site of Arnold and loosened his grip. His jaw was tight as he repeated “We will call you as soon as “
“This is horse shit!” Ted turned sharply and began to head toward the woods.
Dwight was about to stop him when Arnold stepped in front of him. “Let him go.”
“That asshole is going to get himself lost next!”
“Well then he’ll be one less asshole in town, won’t he?” Arnold held up a cup of coffee to Dwight. “He’s just upset his kid is missing. Let him blow off some steam and energy. The others will bring him back.”
Dwight took the cup of coffee. “I only have two kids” he grumbled. “And I pay child support!” He screamed at the woods. He took a deep swallow of the coffee and made his way to a large tree to sit in the shade.
Kate was handing out sandwiches when the Lioness ladies arrived with cookies, sweet breads, more sandwiches and juice. Matt stayed in silence, helping. Gary and Carl didn’t show up with their dads, but Gary’s dad extended an invite to stay at his place for a few days with Gary and Carl. Matt declined though.
Arnold walked over to Matt and placed a hand on his shoulder. “You ok buddy?”
Matt sniffled and his lip began to tremble. The tears followed. “It’s all my fault” Matt whimpered. “I showed them the lights.” He began to sob and Kate came over to her son.
Kate wrapped her arms around Matt and held him close to her chest as he trembled and sobbed.
“He went to see the fairies alone. It’s all my fault. I’m so stupid.” Matt had snot running down his lip to his chin now.
“It’s not your fault” Kate whispered.
“It is. He went alone to see them.”
Tony had left a note, scribbled in crayon that he was going to see the fairies. He would be back soon. He took his gold colored lab named Blondie and they walked almost 2 miles to the woods by Matt’s house. It was unheard of or unthinkable for Tony to wander off that far. He had trouble walking a long distance and got lost easily, but ever since that sleep over, all he talked about was the fairies. He drew pictures of them and talked about how he wanted to see them again. He was going to take his mom’s camera and get a photo of them. Sure enough he took the camera, the dog, and a fruit pie and juice box in case he got hungry.
Matt was sobbing uncontrollably between his parents one of the volunteers came back. Ted Reeves was behind him, a smile on his face.
“He’s close!” Ted shouted. He was holding the camera in his hands. It was dirty. There had been a heavy rain storm the night Tony went off on his adventure and didn’t return.
“It means we’re on the right track right?” Ted grinned wide.
Officer Lee took the camera from Ted and slipped it into a plastic bag. Ted looked as if he was going to fight Lee over the camera but stopped when Dwight’s heavy hand landed on his shoulder.
“It’s evidence Ted. I’ll get it back to you as soon as I can, but we need to develop the film inside. Might give us some clues to help us find your boy.”
“I’m going back” Ted said. “Going back where the camera was and starting from there”
“The spot was marked” one volunteer stated. “Let us handle this Ted.”
Ted turned sharply and was about to argue with the man when his wife stepped through the crowd. “Ted” he said softly. “Let the men do their job.” She walked over to her husband and reached for him.
Kate noticed how frazzled Marleen Reeves looked. Her blond hair looked fried and dried and her hazel eyes looked glazed over. She also looked as if she had lost weight.
Ted reluctantly agreed and turned to his wife. “Go back to where the camera was” he stated at Dwight. “I want my son home by supper!”
The Camera was the only thing found of Tony Reeves that day. The photos on the camera were mostly of Tony’s thumb in the way of the lens but there was one clear photo of a blue light in the trees. The search officially ended around the end of September and Tony Reeves was announced dead around Halloween. November 4th Marleen Reeves went out to the woods with a bottle of pain killers, a bottle of Jack and no intentions of coming back. She was found a few days later on the trail. She was still warm, but very dead.